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The Sun Will Still Rise in the East

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Every branch in the entire park was alive with a choir of tiny sparrows. Leaves fluttered from their perches, carpeting the scuffed park path in imperial ruby and gold. Bodie shrugged his coat tighter around his shoulders. It wasn’t freezing exactly, but he could feel the first stirrings of frost scratching at his skin.  The steady crunch of the leaves was echoed by another – almost identical – tread beside him. Bodie automatically adjusted his pace to match and let his gaze slide sideways so he could surreptitiously study the pale face that the other tread belonged to.

Luckily for him, Doyle’s attention was engaged by the songbirds above them and, judging from the rapt expression on his face, drinking it in hungrily. A weird sensation twisted in Bodie’s stomach, nearly making him stop in his tracks. Normally he would be making a crack right now about classical music and (depending on how mock-annoyed Doyle could be bothered to act) Mozart would maybe be dragged into it. But, even as the mists of the sentence presented itself in his brain, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to voice it.

The reason for that was because of how skinny Doyle was. Of course, the little sod had always naturally looked like a rake; but it wasn’t like he had actually been a rake in the traditional sense of the word. No, Doyle had always been lean – not skinny, a skinny agent wasn’t what Cowley wanted – and energetic with it. Every thought and feeling was spelled out in his mannerisms and gestures which Bodie had long ago learnt the index for.

Now all that energy, all that fire was curiously absent and had been for a long time. Bodie dropped his gaze back to his feet, absently shuffling the leaves over his shoes. Doyle still did his job as he was supposed to, talked to colleagues making jokes and observances galore and he sometimes allowed Bodie to drag him out for a few pints down at their local. Bodie had stopped that after a few weeks because Doyle would quietly and unfailingly get completely hammered and then go home with barely a word to Bodie, presumably to drink some more. Finally, when he’d had enough of this silent bottle-hitting Doyle, he had taken the opportunity – when asked to fetch something of Doyle’s from his flat – to go through his home, seeking out any hint, any shred of evidence, that would confirm what he thought he already knew.

But there had been nothing: no bottles, no shards, not even the merest drop of alcohol anywhere in the house. Standing in the darkened living room, Bodie had experienced a sudden surge of relief. Either there hadn’t been a problem or Doyle had realised that he was going overboard with his drinking and was doing something about it. Thinking back on it now, Bodie wondered if Doyle had been becoming an alcoholic – he had always seemed sober apart from those ill-fated trips to the pub. Maybe Doyle had felt a… he didn’t know… an obligation, or something, to keep Bodie company while he drank. Maybe he just overestimated how the alcohol was going to go to his head. Come to think of it, the beer had seemed a little strong.

But that didn’t change that fact that Doyle was different. He didn’t seem to get as angry about things anymore – failed ops, criminals mocking them, even little incidents like being late or forgetting something important. If it had been anyone else Bodie might have said that they had mellowed, but this was Ray Doyle he was talking about. This was Ray Doyle who could have been sold as a firecracker on Bonfire Night when the temper took hold and even Bodie had learnt when it was ok for him to try and interfere and when it was time to take off running and not look back. Now everything just seemed to almost be too much bother. Bodie didn’t like it. He wasn’t sure what to do. He’d seen Doyle slip into this black mood before, let him battle it out inside his head and was waiting to help pick him up again when Doyle had beaten his demons. Doyle liked doing things by himself, Bodie had lent a few jabs to boost his morale in cases before but ultimately it all came down to his partner to sort it out for himself.

Which he seemed to have done, Bodie noted. There had been the return of a spring to Doyle’s step in recent days and Bodie found himself hoping that it heralded the return to normality.

They crossed the road by the island and walked along the splintered pavement, their footsteps throwing soft clicks into the general calm noise. The street was fairly deserted, just a couple lounging together on a bench in the park, completely oblivious to the world and a group of androgynous teenagers chattering excitedly to each other about some new band or film as they rounded the corner. They halted outside a little corner shop, Bodie stooping to skim the headlines of the newsstand outside. “Hey Doyle, reckon I won anything on the races yesterday?”

“I dunno,” Doyle smiled at him, “what was it called?”

“Um…” Bodie had the good grace to look embarrassed, “Goer Betty.”

Doyle raised his eyebrows, “Goer Betty? Who names their horse Goer Betty?”

“The same kind of person who names their horse Flirty Gert,” Bodie countered defensively. “Anyway,” he continued, pulling open the door, “how’s Lucy been? I haven’t seen her for a while.”

“You know as much as me,” Doyle shrugged cautiously, “We agreed that it wasn’t going anywhere and we kind of drifted apart,” he picked up a bike magazine and began leafing through it. Bodie eyed him with suspicion.

“Really?” he asked, “when was this?” 

“About… about a month ago.”

“So who’ve you been seeing then?” he asked.

Doyle shrugged again, a lopsided jerk of the shoulder, his attention still fixed on the newest piece of machinery. “I haven’t really been going out.”

“Dry as a desert then?” Bodie teased. Doyle just shrugged again and moved away to the window, gazing out across the road. “Ray…?”

“I’m ok.” Doyle glanced back at him; “Just a bit tired, that’s all,” A wave of tension momentarily tightened his shoulders before it evaporated as fast as it had appeared.

“We are owed a few days off, you know.” Bodie replaced the newspaper on the shelf and gave Doyle a quick matey pat on the shoulder. “If you would be willing to brave the Cow’s wrath then you could have a few days away – on the coast or something.”

Eyes crinkling, Doyle interjected, “Why me? You’re his favourite!”

“I still don’t understand why you think that, Angelfish – I’ve had more tellings off from the Cow in the last month that you have all year,” inwardly, he winced at the blatant lie. Doyle laughed softly, obviously seeing through it. The laughter was genuine, Bodie noted, but there was still a tinge of something in it that he wasn’t sure how to identify. However, he pushed on. “No Ray, I’m serious. Get away. Take the sketchbook and have some time to yourself. You’re looking more and more like a ghost every day!” There was a small twitch at the edge of his partner’s mouth as if he had said something inordinately funny.

“Should I just get a sheet and put it over my head then?” Doyle joked, “Start leaping out at people in HQ going boo?” The image stopped Bodie dead in his tracks, imagining a costumed Doyle sneaking around the CI5 corridors doing just that.

“Bloody dangerous that,” he replied, trying to smother a chuckle, “You’d probably end up getting shot by Cowley.” Doyle shrugged again, his face closing abruptly.

“I would, wouldn’t I?” he said quietly. “Death by Cow, eh?”

“Not a nice way to go,” Bodie said with a little less joviality that he had been planning. “Thank you Mr Ross. I’ll see you later,” he interrupted himself and shoved the pennies in his pocket, “Can’t think of many worse ones.”

Doyle didn’t reply to the prompt, his brow creased slightly in thought.

The bell tinkled as they stepped out into the watery sunlight, a light breeze sweeping the leaves from the pavements. They walked on in separate silence, Bodie growing increasingly more and more apprehensive, therefore more irritated, by Doyle’s inwardly retreating air. He felt himself starting to grind his teeth. Just before they crossed the road to enter the park, he grabbed Doyle’s arm. “Listen Ray…” he said, “You know that it wasn’t your fault what happened, don’t you?” Doyle didn’t answer. “You couldn’t have stopped it – none of us could!” Doyle gently pulled his arm from Bodie’s grasp.

“It’s ok, Bodie.”

“Are you sure?”

Doyle stared towards the trees for a few moments, his expression wistful and still. There was a rumble in the distance, but Bodie ignored it. He hadn’t noticed before just how gaunt Doyle looked. His partner turned around to him and gifted him with a dreamy smile.

“Yeah,” he said. Then he stepped out onto the road –

Straight into the path of a speeding bus.

###

A piercing scream – screech of brakes – rough cloth sliding between his fingers – sudden weight of a body – crack of knees on concrete – explosion of hot, wet pain – stillness of limbs entangled in his.

The birds stopped singing.

Monochrome images, frozen in time, blinked through his brain, bathing the world in horror.

Then, like a film stuttering back to life, colour flooded back to his eyes. Disorientated by the sudden change in pace, Bodie struggled to sit up. Doyle was cursing flatly, trying to disengage his legs from under Bodie. Hastily Bodie grabbed for him and tried to check for injuries, “Ray? Are you ok? You weren’t hit were you?”

“Gerroff me Bodie!” Doyle managed to draw his trapped limbs away from his partner and began to climb to his feet. “Didn’t hit me.”

“Thank god,” Bodie breathed, feeling his heart rate slow to double digits, “Did you not see the bus?”

There was the merest of delicate pauses before Doyle muttered, “no.” They were standing now; the bus was long gone, leaving the impression of tyres on the tarmac. “Are you alright?” Bodie looked down and grimaced.

“You owe me a new pair of trousers sunshine,” he remarked drolly. Slow streams of crimson were dripping down his shins from the grazes in both knees. Doyle opened his mouth to say something – but was suddenly silenced by the arrival of the flustered couple, their terrified exclamations rupturing the tense atmosphere.

“Are you ok? Oh god, he nearly hit you!”

“I didn’t manage to get his number, mate, sorry… oh! Your knees!” The man was staring at the blood in dismay, his blue eyes wide.

“I’m ok –“ Bodie started.

“I’m a doctor, mate. Just –“

“I’m fine,” Bodie insisted. “I’ve had worse.”

“Are you sure?” the woman asked doubtfully, twirling a strand of ginger hair round her finger, “I mean… it was an awfully big bus.” she flushed at the banality of the statement.

“It’s ok, love,” Doyle was flashing his devastating smile, reassuring the couple as he would in any other situation. Bodie had to marvel at just how calm he was after their close call. “I just didn’t look – stupid of me I know – but you know how it is. Mind on other things.”

Unfortunately his charms were not so effective on the man who persisted that Bodie should at least bath the wound and maybe go to see a doctor. “It could get infected, mate.” Bodie took a good look at him, seeing the baby face that was yet to fully disappear as he matured, coming to the conclusion that this man was still new to his profession and eager to do some good in the world. “It’s ok, really. Thank you. I’m going to do that,” Bodie lied as he gripped Doyle’s arm and began to steer them both away from the couple, “but first I think I’m going to have to beat some sense into my friend here.”

Doyle shook his head sorrowfully, “good luck with that.”

It took a while for them to completely convince the pair that they were both very much alive and not likely to keel over from shock – unlike, Bodie suspected, they were – and soon the couple had moved off together in the direction of the shop. They crossed the road, Bodie fastidiously checking both ways, in tight-lipped silence and were back among the rain of leaves before Bodie decided to let his feelings rip. “Jesus Doyle!”

“What? We’re both alive aren’t we?” Doyle snapped.

“No thanks to you, mate. It was a bloody close call!” Doyle pushed past him, hands rammed deep into his pockets. “Don’t you dare walk away sunshine –“ Doyle ignored him, quickening his pace. “Come back!” There was no response. Bodie chased after him and snagged his arm roughly.

Doyle spun round, spitting fire, “Let go!”

“Not until you snap out of it!”

“Snap out of what?” he asked calmly. It was the same calmness that came just before a bullet hit you, when you knew that it was coming and it was far too late to do anything about it. “Go on. I want to hear this.”

“Oh? You think I haven’t noticed? You think I haven’t noticed the fact that you drink yourself insensible? You think I haven’t noticed that you’ve halved your portion sizes? You think I haven’t noticed that you look like a walking corpse?” Bodie paused, anger making him breathless. “Do you think I’ve just looked the other way when you’ve run straight into a firefight? I’m your partner damnit! I’m supposed to watch your back!”

“What I do in my own time is my business.” Doyle said sharply. He yanked his arm out of Bodie’s grasp. “Just go home. I can make it from here.”

“No.”

Doyle frowned, puzzled. “No?” he queried.

“If your idea of having a good time is trying to kill yourself then it becomes my business.” Bodie informed him darkly.

Doyle bit his lip and turned away with a sigh. “Thanks Bodie.”

“What?” he was thrown by the sudden change in tone.

“I appreciate it. No, really,” he held up his hand, “I do. I’m an arrogant sod and I don’t know why you bothered putting up with me. This is something I have to do, ok? I just want… I just want to be alone for a while. I’m tired.” He punched Bodie on the shoulder and then, quickly, walked away towards his flat. “’Bye.”

Bodie was left standing on the rotting carpet, feeling hollow and confused. For a moment he thought about running after him, but he wasn’t sure it would help. He began to scythe at the leaves as he walked, his hindbrain gnawing incessantly at the last conversation, worrying over it like a terrier.

Don’t know why you bothered putting up with me… something I have to do… want to be alone… I’m tired… bothered putting up with… I have to do… alone… my own business… tired… bothered… bothered…

Why did he say bothered instead of bother? The tangling spider web of words nearly walked Bodie into a tree. He caught his ankle on a root and lurched forwards, jarring his injured knees. Hissing a quick curse, he yanked himself loose and then leant against the irregular bark – trying to work out what exactly his brain was telling him. Bothered – bothered. The word was beginning to blur in his mind, becoming a meaningless jumble of syllables. Why? Why the past tense? Was he going to quit? Was he going to storm up to Cowley like he had done three years ago and demand that CI5 accepted his resignation? Hadn’t worked last time, had it? The Cow was far too cunning for that. He had stood firm against Hurricane Doyle without changing tone or expression and calmly informed his furious agent that he was suspended so the amateur dramatics were useless. Only Major George Cowley could have turned the situation on its head so fast that the agents were both floored by it. Actually, Bodie wondered if Cowley had planned for the entire outburst from the start like he seemed to plan almost everything else. He wouldn’t put it past the old bastard.

But that didn’t change the wordless roaring fear inside him. This moment felt wrong – Doyle had teetered on the edge of resignation many times before and it had never been like this.

The lightning nearly sent Bodie to his knees. He froze in indecision, not quite understanding what it was that made that word so different and so dangerous. Then it came to him with a sick moment of clarity.

Doyle never said goodbye.

He just didn’t. Bodie had always reckoned that it was some remnant that he had picked up on the Drugs Squad; it had been the same in the SAS. In their line of work you didn’t tempt fate. So, you said see you or later or something like that. Some people wouldn’t even say the word in passing, just in case. He had turned and was sprinting along the path before he even remembered how to move. Doyle’s words slashed at his brain and echoed hauntingly in his ears, spurring him to adopt an even faster pace. Bodie skidded along the path, narrowly avoiding a woman with a yappy rat of a dog, and was across the road with little thought for his own safety. Someone swore and leaned on the horn, but he ignored them. He wasn’t far from Doyle’s flat. He could make it. Please, let me be wrong, he thought despairingly. I’d give anything if I’m wrong.

The grey-white block of flats wasn’t particularly tall, but to Bodie it seemed to stretch on forever. Panting a little, he stabbed at Doyle’s name on the outside call box. There was no answer. He smashed his fist into it again and again. “Damnit Doyle! Answer me! Let me in!” Impatience eating at his bones, he backed up and tried to judge if he could break the door down. Déjà vu burned its way behind his eyes and into his heart as he remembered a day very much like this one not long enough ago. The fear creeping inside. The silence from the flat above. Where was the fire escape this time? He was just about to go and find it when the front door suddenly opened. Bodie wasted no time. Without regard for the old dear tottering out, he shoved past and into the lobby, casting a wild glance around. The lift was occupied and on its way up so he thundered for the stairs. Doyle was only on the fourth floor. He could run that. 

Number 16 – number 16. Bodie sped past each room until he reached Doyle’s. He raised his hand to knock and stopped abruptly. Doyle might not be here. He could have gone somewhere, anywhere else to… to do it. Of course, he might not be going to do it. Bodie might be overreacting. Oh god please let him be overacting…

 He was still frozen in the act of rapping on the door when a small voice piped up, “If you’re lookin’ for Mister Number 16 then he’s in. He only ‘rrived about ten minutes ago.” Bodie started in surprise. The boy on the stairs gave him a knowing look that clearly stated that he wanted something in return for the information. “He looked kinda sad, mister.”

“Thanks kid,” he muttered curtly, hammering with all his might on the wood. “Doyle? Open the door!” Something smashed inside the apartment. “I’m coming in Doyle. Whether you like it or not.” He rapidly backpedalled and crashed into the door. The boy stared in disbelief with his mouth hanging open, the comic book slipping off his lap. This was way better than anything on TV. Bodie shoulder charged it a second time, feeling the chain begin to give way. On the third go, which nearly popped the joint from its socket, the door gave way, spilling him on the floor. Instinctively, he drew his gun – only just realising that there could be another reason for Doyle not answering him.

Bodie was expecting silence. It took him a moment to grasp that the room was filled with music, some classical piece that was both uplifting and heartrendingly solemn. He tore towards the source, the music invoking a frantic flutter in his brain. The door to the bedroom was jammed shut, but the adrenaline leaping through his body made it a useless gesture. Bodie barged the door open –

And stopped abruptly, his brain refusing to acknowledge what his eyes were telling him.

Suspended, like some sick parody of the angel he vaguely resembled, Doyle dangled limply from the rafter in the ceiling, his face rapidly tinging blue. A chair was crumpled on its side below his twitching feet. Bodie didn’t remember what he did next, didn’t know if he fired the gun (he must have, what else was there for him to use?) but the very next recollection he had was dragging Doyle’s unconscious form to him, checking airways and heartbeats with intrusively desperate hands. “Ray…” he whispered pitifully, “why? C’mon mate, you’ve got to stay with me. C’mon…” clumsy fingers fumbled at the knot, listening to the harsh breaths of a body that wasn’t entirely sure it was still functioning. Bodie craned his neck to glance out of the door, spotting the kid’s shadow loitering outside. “Get an ambulance!” he roared.

“What’d I say?” the boy wailed, almost frozen in terror. To him the whole scene was nightmarish – belonging in the kind of film that his older siblings adored, featuring psychos with chainsaws.

“Tell them that a man has been strangled,” Bodie didn’t know how his voice was so clear, “he’s breathing and his heart’s going, but he doesn’t look good. Can you do that for me?”

“I – I don’t know…”

“Yes, you can – what’s your name?” Bodie didn’t take his eyes off the figure in his arms. Doyle looked so vulnerable; dark, ominous bruises were forming across his throat like some weird necklace. He’d removed his silver chain, Bodie noted absently. Briefly, he wondered where it was.

“Callum.”

“My friend is not very well, Callum,” he nearly laughed at the stupidity of the lie, “and he needs an ambulance right now. I can’t leave him as he could get sicker. I need you to call them for me. Can you be a big boy, Callum and do that?” Callum rushed to the phone. Bodie dimly heard him dialling the number and then repeating what Bodie had told him one word at a time. He heard him direct the emergency team to the flats and give the number of the room. “Good boy,” he said softly, “good boy. Listen to me, Ray, I’m not going to let go, ok? I’m not going to let you go.” He laid his partner on his carpet – trying to keep his head as still as possible – and raised his legs, supporting them with the chair. Carefully, like he might break something, he brushed Doyle’s hair away from his eyes. “Why the hell did you do it, Ray?” he asked harshly, anger only now beginning to surface. “What the hell were you thinking?”

He kept a firm hold on him even after the he heard the sirens singing down on the street. He kept a hold on him even when the medics crashed up the stairs and inside the room. He refused to let go even when they talked to him in soothing tones. It was only when the anger burst out of him in a savage swirl of red that he allowed Ray to be pried from his grasp and taken from him by the green-clad doctors as another statistic in the battle between life and death. He had never felt so…

So betrayed.

###

“Why didn’t you tell me, Ray? Why didn’t you say? Why? Why did you do this? What were you thinking? Damnit Ray, answer me!” The questions blurred together in his brain, hurting like his throat, like his mind, like everything had been for a long time. He kept his eyes tightly shut, refusing to acknowledge that Bodie was even there. He didn’t want to see him. He didn’t want to see anyone – not his boss, not his friends and especially not his partner. Not his partner who wouldn’t even allow him to die like he was supposed to. He wanted to reply, really, he did, but his voice was lying dead under the bruises that collared him like some animal. It looked to him like a dog chain fastening him to life against his will, a fierce reminder of why he wanted to leave in the first place. “I know you’re awake, Doyle.” Bodie’s voice was full of empty resentment and he reached over to Doyle, not sure whether he was going to hit him or just make sure he was still there. Doyle croaked out a violent protest and jerked away from the touch. Bodie’s hand withdrew sharply as if he’d been burned. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Bodie demanded again, “I could’ve helped – I’ve always tried to help before, haven’t I? What about Cowley? He’s not that heartless.” He might as well have been voicing these questions to a stone wall. Doyle neither moved or signalled or gave any indication that he was listening. The fury was filling the room with a tangible, precarious presence. Finally Doyle pushed himself up against the white pillow, the bruises making his face look even more ominous.

The voice, when it came, was rusty and painful and almost remorseful in its sincerity. “It would’ve been over by now.” Doyle paused, trying to force his voice to obey him, “I wouldn’t be so much trouble.”

Bodie grabbed his shoulders, “Why would you think that, Ray?” he wanted to know, “why the hell would you be trouble?” Doyle shoved him away roughly.

“Leave me alone.” he snapped hoarsely. “Go away, Bodie. I don’t want to talk to you.” That stopped Bodie in his tracks. For a second he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. The venom in his partner’s tone stung him far deeper than anything else from these wretched hours in the hospital.

“Oh, that’s gratitude,” he snarled back, each word designed to wound, “who found you? Who cut the fucking rope? What did you think? That I was going to abandon you if you told me? I thought we were partners, Ray. I thought you trusted me,” Bodie yanked open the door, thankful that there was no one else on this ward, “and I thought I trusted you.”

###

The doorbell rang shrilly, cutting through Bodie’s drunken cloud like a banshee. Swearing inventively, he fought his way out of the sofa and scooped the mostly empty whiskey bottle up in his hand after a second try. It smashed satisfactorily in the bin. Only then did he move towards the door, concentrating on placing his feet where he intended them. Bodie unlocked the door and then allowed it to swing open. “Sir,” it was a syllable filled with derision. Cowley stepped over the threshold; his face lined and set in a stony expression.

“3.7, may I come in?”

Bodie shrugged, “I obviously don’t have a choice, sir.” Cowley ignored the barbs in the statement and pushed past him into the main living area of the apartment. He hesitated momentarily and sniffed.

“Have you been drinking, 3.7?”

“Just drowning my sorrows, sir,” Bodie answered mockingly. He swept his hand around the room, “I don’t have any beams, sir, so I can’t follow Doyle’s example.”

“Speaking of 4.5,” Cowley said, “I thought you would be at the hospital.” Bodie knelt down to snag a bottle of wine from the fridge, his face unreadable. Carefully, without looking at his boss, he lifted his empty glass from the sideboard and began to fill it.

Aware that Cowley was still waiting for an answer, he said, “I was at the hospital. Then I decided to take a walk.”

“To the nearest liquor shop.”

“No, I already had these,” laughing bitterly, he continued, “I was planning to have a drink tonight anyway,” he shrugged and took a swig, “might as well expand on the one.”

“I want to talk to you about Doyle.”

“Well I don’t.”

“Listen, man.” Cowley stepped towards Bodie, giving him a look that told the agent exactly what he thought about his callous attitude, “Your partner tried to commit suicide at quarter to ten this morning and, as much as you try to hide it under these inappropriate jokes, you are worried about him.”

“Is that a crime?” Bodie said bluntly, “the idiot decided to try and make himself taller. That’s what happens to us, isn’t sir?” When Cowley didn’t respond he clarified, “We risk life and limb for Queen and Country and finally it’s our own mind that does us in.”

“Is that what you think happened to Doyle?”

Bodie gave another savage bark of laughter and downed the rest of his drink. Wandering away from Cowley, he placed it decisively on the counter and then began to pull the curtains. Cowley stayed where he was, his hands folded over each other. Twisting the hot tap, Bodie dumped the dishes into the sink and began to scrub half-heartedly at them, soap foaming on his hands. The action helped to hide the fine tremble that gripped them. “If you don’t mind, sir, it’s been a long day and I want to go to bed.” he finally said.

“Is that what you think?” Cowley pressed. Bodie ignored him, transferring the shiny plates to the drying rack and picking up his abandoned glass. “Well, Bodie?” The water swirled down the plughole with a bubbling gulp.

“Must feel strange, sir,” Bodie said, gripping the edge of the sink, “Having the same conversation twice with two people.” Cowley frowned, unsure of what he meant. Bodie noticed. “I mean, you talked to Doyle about this didn’t you? About me? Don’t try denying it, I know it happened. Don’t you remember, sir? King Billy?”

“Yes, I remember.” Cowley was looking at him with maddening astuteness, “I won’t deny it.” Bodie’s knuckles had gone white. “It doesn’t change the situation… or my question.”

Taking a deep breath, Bodie finally muttered, “Maybe. I don’t know. You know the little bastard blames himself for everything. I don’t want to know, ok? Oh fuck!” He slammed his fist on the counter. “What do you want me to say? He seemed depressed, but I’ve dealt with that before.” Bodie dragged a hand across his eyes, the pressures of the day gritting in his vison. “Ray could deal with it –“

“Could?” Cowley queried. Bodie jumped, glaring at Cowley.

 “Can,” he corrected himself hastily. Cowley’s sharp gaze didn’t waver from his agent, picking out every detail of the man and his flat. It was obvious that he was turning over something in his mind. From the faint tells of his expression he was finding it hard to stomach. Finally, Bodie’s fingers jolted from the sinew-cracking grip on the ceramic and he could turn to face the small sandy-haired man, standing like a statue in his living room with an air of solemnness that was starting to get on his nerves. “Listen sir, I already told you everything, alright?” The sting at the end of the sentence didn’t pierce Cowley’s armour. However, he took the hint and moved towards the door. Bodie began to climb the stairs to his bedroom, planning to crash out immediately with the help of some more alcohol. Cowley could see his own way out – the old bastard had seen himself in after all.

“Bodie?” Bodie didn’t turn around. “I want to see you in my office tomorrow morning – you have no excuse for missing it.” He opened the door and was just over the threshold when he turned and said, “Remember to lock your door, 3.7; I’m not having you get caught with your trousers down because you’re pining over a bottle of whiskey.”

Moving on automatic, Bodie did set the locks after his boss had left. However, every time he tried to catch the tails of Morpheus, his vison was filled with a dangling shadow and the memory of bruises in a ring…

###

They wouldn’t let him leave. Every time he tried to exit those glass plated doors some doctor or nurse accosted him, twittering about ‘injuries, Mr Doyle. You have to wait to be signed out by someone…’ or ‘Mr Doyle; we want to keep you under observation for just a little while longer.’ or the most common, ‘I’m under orders, Mr Doyle.’

That one nearly made him laugh. Some of the worst deeds he had faced were simply because they were following orders. Each time he had tried to shake off their guiding hands, another doctor had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and taken hold of him as well. Doyle knew enough to not resist too much, but polite words were getting increasingly strained and hard to find. He knew what they were thinking – hell! They were right – but shouldn’t a man have the right to do what he wanted with his life?

Of course, Doyle thought as he paced back and forth in his room, it wasn’t them who relived each of those moments over in their dreams. Rubbing the side of his face reflectively, he remembered the moment it had become so clear to him what he had to do… and how everything had seemed that little brighter now he had found an escape. Doyle smiled wryly. Funny – how many years had he spent fighting those wanted to kill him? Answer: too many. It was interesting, he decided, lying back on the bed, that the person wielding the knife in the end was you.

He thought too much. He always had. How many times had Bodie tried to tell him that? How many times had he been found by his partner in various stages of depression because of how the thoughts kept building and multiplying until it tangled up in his brain? Then how suffocating it was when everything closed inwards on him, trapping him in a pit full of dark shadows with voices calling out in pain and terror and anger.

(PleasestopItriedeverythingIreallytriedpleasestopIcan’thelpIwastoolateI’msorryI’msosorry!)

 How the nightmare was interspersed with sudden flashes of white light and the harsh metallic smell of blood that made him sick to the stomach in remembrance. He’d seen too much; done too much. All he had ever wanted was to make a difference to the world – try to make it a better place for someone, somehow. So he’d killed people. Their faces haunted him day and night.

Better to embrace the only solution that made sense. Better to allow himself be taken by the hand of Death to where the dreams couldn’t wake him in the middle of the night. Doyle swung his legs over the side of his bed and buried his face in his hands. Selfish… not matter what he did. He was selfish if he died and selfish if he lived. A hoarse chuckle bubbled up his throat, sending a fresh wave of fire sweeping through his body. He’d made his choice and he was going to stick to it. He deserved it.

“Ray?” A lightning bolt of adrenaline made every nerve explode in anticipation. In the back of his mind Doyle was aware of a little voice taunting him; you can’t even relax anymore…

“What?” he snapped. His voice still wasn’t right. “I thought you’d cleared off.”

Bodie stepped into the room, his face pale and haggard. Fingers jumping on his thigh, he smiled at his partner. “I’m taking you home,” he said. Doyle stared at him. The smile didn’t reach Bodie’s eyes. Reading the thoughts behind it, Doyle stood up – empty anger and sorrow and shame dancing through his blood.

“Really?” he raised his eyebrows, “is this some kind of trust exercise?” Bodie recoiled slightly from the acidic tone and Doyle felt a slight twinge of guilt for enjoying it. “See if I can resist the urge to off myself in my kitchen?”

“Get your coat sunshine,” the affectionate nickname faltered, “I’ve signed you out.”

“That’s impressive seeing as they tackled me every time I tried to leave,” Doyle remarked, but he was already in the corridor, his retreating back facing Bodie. Bodie didn’t answer. He followed his partner along the corridor and ushered him out the door. The nurse behind the desk looked up at him and frowned. The other nurse murmured a reassurance and she offered Bodie a tentative smile. Bodie smiled back and pushed open the door.

Doyle was waiting for him by the car, unusually straight, with an expectant look in his eyes. “Home James?” he asked.

“And don’t spare the horses,” Bodie answered with as much feeling as he could muster.

They drove in silence. Doyle was curled up by the door, his gaze blank, letting the scenery wash by him. Bodie sat awkwardly behind the wheel, every muscle in his body tense. The view changed gradually from conjoined bungalows with two foot square gardens to rolling fields crowned by squawking geese. Bodie was waiting for the question so he was almost prepared for answering it. “Where are we going?”

“To a safehouse,” he flashed Doyle a smile, “I got the Cow to give us some time off and I thought that you’d like this one. It’s quiet and less stressful.”

“Really?”

“Really. When have I lied to you?” Doyle gave a half-shoulder shrug and settled back into position. Bodie switched his gaze back to the road, his poker face still intact. Inside, he hated every fibre of his being. What did you do for a mate who’d tried to – tried to…?

Even in the privacy of his own head he couldn’t bring himself to utter the words.

The road was getting smaller and pockmarked with ruts and bumps that rattled the car’s undercarriage. Bodie wasn’t enjoying being jolted about every which way, it was playing havoc with his steering. After a few minutes of attempting to keep the vehicle moving at a normal speed, he was forced to adopt the pace a tortoise might have. If a tortoise could drive a silver Ford Capri, of course. Sheer force of habit nearly made him turn to Doyle to share this ludicrous image, but one look at the stone-silent apparition made the words dry up in his throat. The discomfort throbbed faster in his brain, putting Bodie in mind of when you brushed a light graze. It hurt far more than it was entitled to and lasted for far longer than you believed it could. There was the sudden flash of hot, golden agony prefixed by a cold-water shock and then the shivery tingling that sent fingers up and down your spine. Something had broken between them and it made him scared. Scared because he’d had so many nightmares before – Doyle being shot dead on a raid, Doyle getting knifed undercover, Doyle getting kidnapped, Doyle being hurt so badly that he wasn’t Doyle anymore – but none of this had ever featured in these terrors before. This was new and somehow more damaging and wrong than any of those. And now, now… what he was doing was for the best, wasn’t it?

Bodie rounded his shoulders and set them resolutely. He was going to see this through.

Doyle kept his gaze firmly fixed on a distant spot, refusing to look over at Bodie. Thoughts whirled, cloud-like, through his mind, but all of them were so insubstantial that he couldn’t pin them down or identify them. Instead he just stared out at the horizon. He was far too tired and he ached everywhere, the brunt of the attack coming from the bruises across his throat. Absently, Doyle rubbed his hand along them, deliberately pressing on the worst ones, allowing the dull pain to blur his mind even further. It would’ve been over by now… it should’ve been over by now! But Bodie hadn’t let it lie, had he? Somewhere deep in his brain he knew that should’ve known that – should’ve known that Bodie was far more intelligent than most people suspected. Doyle had never doubted him for a second. He nearly laughed, the bitterness hot and black like tar spreading across his tongue. Bloody stupid fool.

Doyle wasn’t sure which one of them he was referring to.

He resumed his false study of the horizon.

They drove for another fifteen minutes in heavy silence like the building of a thunderstorm.

Distractedly, not quite aware that he had heard himself correctly, Doyle suddenly thought ‘gate’. ‘Cage’ followed with the barest of pauses. Then horror dawned in his eyes as he realised why those two words cut through his mental fuzz. “Bodie…” he whispered, it sounded more like a plea than either of them wanted. “Why are we here, Bodie?” Doyle’s voice rose by half an octave. “Bodie…?” With measured movements, Bodie swung the car around and into a parking space. The brakes juddered in and the wheels ground the leaves underneath them into mush. Doyle glanced about wildly, blood draining from his face. “This isn’t happening.” he whispered. Like a wish. Like a prayer. “You haven’t. Please tell me you haven’t.” Bodie didn’t – couldn’t – look at his partner, his expression set in a mask of stone. Three men came out of the gothic door, two strong, white-coated men flanking a smaller, sandy haired one clad in a sombre suit. “Bodie, don’t you dare. Don’t you dare!” Hate flecked each syllable, one fist raised – knuckles as white as ivory. As white as a skull. As white as Bodie’s own knuckles, still clenched around the steering wheel. “Please Bodie…” Doyle’s punch wavered. Somehow, Bodie knew that he’d never land it. Only then, when Doyle’s voice broke in the midst of begging and he could sense the burning of contained tears, did Bodie turn to face his partner. Doyle stared back at him, green eyes wide – still hoping against all the evidence – searching every inch of Bodie for some sign – some sign that it was some kind of sick joke, that it wasn’t what it was and so it didn’t hurt so much.

“I’m so sorry Ray.” Bodie looked at him, meaning it, wanting him to understand. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Everything shattered then. When Doyle shoved the door open and ran, it was Bodie who ran after him. When he tried to escape, it was Bodie who grabbed him and tried to restrain his flying fists and curses.

They fought then, under the dying leaves of the ash tree.

It was Bodie who won, pinning Doyle to the ground as the thunder of feet caught up to them and voices cracked out commands. It was Bodie who had to look into the depths of the green gaze. It was Bodie who had to face the accusations and the hatred within. It was Bodie who let the white-coats slide a syringe under the skin on Doyle’s arm and it was Bodie who watched the awareness ebb away into placid stillness that echoed horribly the angel suspended from the rafters.

He watched the two men clasp Doyle’s wrists and manipulate him so they could carry the unconscious man between them. His gaze tracked them, coldly, as they hauled him up the smoothed stone steps and then through the double doors, out of Bodie’s sight.

Out of his reach.

A hand was laid on his shoulder with startling gentleness. “It had to be done, lad.” Cowley began to pull Bodie away. “It’s what’s best for him. They’ll help. You had to do it, laddie.”

“No,” Bodie answered him in clipped, sharp bursts. “It didn’t have to be done that way.” He shook Cowley’s hand off of him, feeling dirty, feeling furious. “I didn’t want it to be done that way.”

And as he drove past the sign painted in stark letters, it was Bodie who heard the cries of traitor ringing in his ears.

The ornate gates of Repton Psychiatric Hospital closed behind him with finality like the gates of the Bastille.

###

His room was clinical and stark and white. One solitary bed huddled in the corner, shrouded in a white blanket and there was a window, but it was reinforced with one metal bar across it. Nurses and doctors, mainly men who looked like they were part bear, passed by with measured, brisk steps outside of his door, which could only be locked from the outside. There was a multitude of clipboards and gentle, but persistent questions which could be summarised as “How are we feeling today, Mr Doyle?” and “Is there anything you wish to talk about, Mr Doyle?” For the first few days, he protested at being there, protested that there must have been a mistake – but his reasons sounded tinny and weak to his own ears. The branding around his throat, while fading slightly, marked him as ‘a danger to himself’ and therefore, he wasn’t allowed anything that could even inconceivably be used to off himself. For the first few days he was confined to his room and not permitted to leave except to go to the bathroom. The cautious, constant stream of well-meaning nurses and doctors set his teeth on edge. Why didn’t they understand? The walls were too bare, too confining, like a prison. He paced restlessly around the room, half afraid to close his eyes in case these surroundings brought back memories that he had tried to bury long ago. Each muffled sound made him twitch in anticipation of an attack or an ambush from the locked door.

He was a mess – a broken wreck of a man entombed inside this carefully cleaned cage of a room filled with twittering doctors who kept asking when he started to feel like this, why didn’t you speak to anyone, what made you decide to try and take your own life?

To all this Doyle answered what he could; that he didn’t know, that there were too many moments of pain and too many minutes of guilt and bitterness and fear.

He was tired, that’s all.

And this was the only way that he could sleep.

The doctors had sighed at him and made meticulous notes on their clipboards and then left him alone again. They left him alone in this whitewashed room with his whitewashed thoughts tumbling like marbles in his brain. Whenever he pulled the covers over his head at night and sleep finally claimed him; he knew that he would wake up screaming.

He dreamed of blood and death and pain. He dreamed he was too late, or too slow or just too stupid and had to watch his failings breathe their last, meaningless breaths.

They gave him drugs to stop the screaming. The drugs did nothing for the dreams except now he couldn’t even have the respite of waking up. Doyle attempted to explain to the nurses, tried to make himself understood that the drugs weren’t helping and that he hated them. The nurses just shook their heads. The drugs were necessary, that’s what the doctor recommended, they parroted. Doyle lost his temper with them, telling the pale birds of the women and hulking brutes of the blokes that the doctors could shove it up their arses –

It just meant that they would sneak the drugs into his food and drink. He could leave the food, but there was always someone on hand to make sure that he drank the water. He’d been force-fed once; he didn’t want that to happen again.

The dreams made Doyle so scared.

But, the worst thing, the thing that he dreaded most now when he laid himself down on the bed, was that he would dream of Bodie. Doyle hated when he had those dreams because it was always Bodie of his memories; the joker, the rock, the bloody great big softie when you got to know him. Remembering that Bodie cut him deeper than any knife because the other Bodie had followed close on that man’s heels, the Bodie who had tricked him, the Bodie who had handed him over to this tomb filled with zombie ex-agents and doctors that locked you away from sunlight and your own wishes and drugged you in your sleep.

He didn’t like remembering the Bodie who had betrayed him.

In a small, unaffected part of his mind he knew that he couldn’t really be angry at Bodie. But, as days dragged by in his new sterile surroundings, Doyle found himself burrowing in on that notion and slowly, like the never ending march of hours, it began to grow and fester.

Then he hated himself even more.

###

“Erm, I’ve come to see Doyle.”

The nurse on desk duty glanced up at him and raised her eyebrows slightly. “Can you clarify please?”

“Clarify?” For a moment Bodie hesitated, then he hastily added, “Raymond Doyle… he’s my partner.” Digging in his pocket, he brought out his ID and presented it to her. Satisfied, the nurse pursed her lips and ran her finger down the list of names in the book. Ink smudged across the page like a squashed spider as she passed Robert Dailey and rubbed the ‘ick’ and ‘Do’ out of Patrick Dominic.

“Raymond Doyle…” she muttered to herself, tapping the corresponding entry in the huge ledger. Bodie peered surreptitiously at the upside down letters, seeing a messy star beside the name. The nurse glared at him and he retreated with a hasty apology to shuffle his feet. “I’m afraid that the doctors aren’t accepting visitors without prior appointments at the moment, Mr Bodie.” she said.

Bodie’s face twisted in confusion, “But… why?”

With a sigh, the nurse said, “The usual procedure is to treat the patient for the minimum of two to three weeks before visitors are allowed. In cases such as this,” she ignored Bodie’s protesting outburst, “it’s likely to be longer.”

“Ray… Ray’ll want to see me.” Bodie tried to make his tone confident. “Can you just tell him I’m here? Please?”

“I’m not a messenger,” the nurse sniffed, but she signalled one of the other nurses and, after a quick exchange of words, left through the double doors at the other end of the corridor. The new receptionist, a squat, friendly-looking woman gestured at one of the folding chairs placed against the wall.

“Why don’t you sit down? It might take a while.” she smiled. Bodie accepted the seat gratefully, despite the lack of comfort, and tangled his fingers together to mask his apprehension. When he had set out this morning to take advantage of the too-rare time off he had been utter convinced that Doyle would want to see him and Bodie would know what to say. Now, faced with the stark reality, he wasn’t sure that it would be the case.

After all, the last time they’d seen each other was the morning of Doyle’s incarceration. Shivering a little at the memory of traitor, Bodie closed his eyes and tried to plan his next move. Surely Doyle would want to see him… even if it was just to yell at Bodie. Bodie found that he sympathised with the stupid bugger – he’d take the abuse (deserved or not in this case) if it meant seeing Doyle again. He missed the teasing and the arguments that in the face of things weren’t arguments at all, but banter over such inconsequential items. He missed watching Doyle’s back and feeling safe that Doyle was watching his.

Mostly, he just missed being with Doyle.

Seemingly moving of its own accord, Bodie’s hand broke the clammy fist and began to creep into the pocket in his jacket. Once there it paused and then reverently drew out a present, gift-wrapped in light blue tissue paper. For a long while Bodie stared at it without really seeing it, his mind storming behind his eyes, before he carefully smoothed out a crease. It was the thought that counted, right?

“Mr Bodie?”

“Yes?” Bodie was out of his seat, still gripping the present in his hand. “Is he ready to see me? Can I speak to him?” The nurse took a breath and her eyelids fluttered momentarily. The little-boy-lost tone that crept into the man’s voice nearly broke her resolve. She’d worked in Repton for nearly fifteen years now and was well versed in carrying similar messages to visitors. Some (the ones who were obvious abusers, or freak show gawkers) she almost enjoyed.  But those who were just as obviously worrying or grieving friends and family – it always tugged at her annoyingly bleeding-heart-prone personality.

“I’m afraid that Mr Doyle doesn’t want to see you.”

“But… are you sure? I mean…” Bodie shook his head. “Did he really mean it?”

The nurse took a breath, “He seemed very sure of his decision, Mr Bodie.” She didn’t add that the sentence had been flat and lifeless in the same way that a piece of paper was – just white and blank and empty. Even when the doctor had relayed the message again, his voice carefully modulated to pierce through whatever fog surrounded his patient in the most undamaging way possible, the answer had come out emptier. “I’m afraid Mr Doyle just doesn’t seem ready to receive visitors yet. I’m sorry that you’ve had to come all this way.”

Bodie bit his lip and asked, “Can I see him at least? I just want to know he’s ok.” The nurse shook her head. “Please?”

“He’s in the best hands Mr Bodie.” The nurse snagged Bodie’s sleeve and began to guide him back to the door with deceptively strong hands. “You can come back when he’s been treated further. I assure you that we will do everything we can to help him.” Bodie tried to pull away – a wild notion of shaking the matronly nurse off and going to find Doyle himself tearing suddenly at his brain – but she held on firmly, disapproval colouring her eyes darkly. “I assure you that Mr Doyle will be receiving the best care –“

“Why can’t I see him? He wouldn’t hurt me!” Bodie ground out against the thumping in his brain. “He’s not dangerous!” Even as the words left his lips he realised that they were a lie. Ray was dangerous – any CI5 agent was a dangerous individual.

The nurse pulled him to a stop outside the double doors so they were still sheltered under the decorative ledge of the roof from the crashing rain. “Mr Bodie,” she said firmly over the noise, “most of the boys in here aren’t dangerous until something sets them off. Some of them, like your friend, are only dangers to themselves, poor souls. But it’s more than my job is worth to let you see him. Do you understand? The mind is delicate thing, Mr Bodie. The wrong sight, the wrong sound at the wrong moment… well, we don’t know how they’re going to react. We can’t predict if they’ll become violent or if it’ll just shatter whatever progress has been made. I don’t make the rules, Mr Bodie and I don’t make the treatments either. I’m not trained in that aspect.” She closed her eyes momentarily and Bodie leaned in to hear her, “There was a patient who escaped here… just over a year ago now, I think. I remember it. Killed two of our doctors – one of them had been my father’s friend and I knew him very well. That poor man… he got the wrong stimulus at the wrong time and… he went on a killing spree. I remember reading the papers and thinking, ‘could I have helped him?’”

“Quinn.” Bodie said it without thinking. The nurse jolted in surprise.

“You know about it?” she asked. Bodie smiled ruefully.

“Yeah,” he said, “Doyle and I were assigned to the case. We saved two of his targets, even helped him stop the person he was really after! But he drove into a caravan – just wouldn’t stop – and was killed instantly.” The nurse’s shoulders drooped.

“He was always such a nice man. All locked up in his own dream world, but he was nice to us.” she murmured. For a moment her brown eyes glistened with trapped tears, but she quickly got a hold on her emotions. “I’m sorry, Mr Bodie. I afraid I can’t let you see him. Not yet anyway.”

Bodie looked away from her, his attention seemingly caught by the mesmerising shower of grey-silver rain. “I understand.” the tone was suitably chastened, but she could still hear the undercurrents of frustration racing through the words. The nurse smiled at him and laid a reassuring hand on his arm – briefly since she guessed he wouldn’t tolerate it for long – then turned to go. “Wait!” She turned and raised her eyebrows. Hastily, Bodie dragged the gift from his jacket pocket. “Can you give this to him? It’s just a book… I just wanted – there’s nothing harmful in there…” he added quickly. The nurse pursed her lips thoughtfully and regarded him. “Please?”

“Alright,” she finally said, “but it’ll have to be checked,” she caught Bodie’s expression, “just in case. You’d be shocked at how inventive some of our patients can be.” At least she took the book with the gentleness it warranted. “Goodbye Mr Bodie. I hope things get better.”

And then Bodie was left alone on the steps waiting to brave the storm.

###

He was standing in a field of emerald grass that was rippling in the wind. The blades reached up to his denim-covered knees and he was admiring the whirls of clouds above him. Somewhere, a bird was singing its heart out. Everything was very bright like an overexposed photograph and the air felt hot and heavy on his shoulders. The grass gleamed just like it had been polished and that struck him as odd. Was grass ever this green? And the sky… there was a roll of thunder. The sky was black – there was a storm brewing above him. Frowning, he turned back towards the gate into the field, only he didn’t move right. Everything was too smooth, too automated. Dread was swelling in his stomach, making him feel clenched up and sick inside as his gaze fell on a car parked just in front of the grass field. It was a gold Escort – no, a Capri – and the sight of it made him want to scream. Why? The fingers of distress were poking into his chest now, curling around his heart. He started to run, but the air was sticky and dragging him backwards further into the field. Clenching his teeth, he managed to tear himself away from the grasp and sprint towards the car, his breath coming in uneven pants that rasped in his throat. The air began to solidify around him again and he struck out, finding nothing under his flailing fists. Thunder rolled. With a shout of desperation he forced himself to move, tripping over an invisible barrier around the region of his ankles. Sprawled on the ground, he blinked up at the car. It was too still, why was it too still? Clawing his way to his feet, he began to run. Hurtling over the fence, he landed on his knees on the road. The undeniable terror was starting to shred his guts as he scrambled towards his destination. He fell against the car, leaving a sweaty handprint on the window. Then – as if dragged by a hook – his gaze slid sidewise and he fell backwards, his mouth open in a silent scream.

The entire inside of the car was soaked in blood. No… not soaked – drenched. Every inch of the interior was dripping crimson; it ran in tear-streaks down the windows and gathered like ponds on the seats. That wasn’t even the worst part. There was a body in the passenger seat, the blood still flowing from a garish grin across its throat. Hyperventilating, he scuttled away from the apparition as it suddenly creaked into life looking like a giant doll, fingers reaching for him – he sprang to his feet and ran as it shrieked something unintelligible to the sky. The face kept changing and circulating through faces that he knew…

Then he was over the fence and back in the field of grass, except it wasn’t grass anymore, it was shards of bright green glass that shattered as he sprinted through it, shards imbedding themselves in his knees, in his thighs, in his hands as he tried to brush them away. Blood welled up in the gashes, but he kept running in blind terror, hoping against hope that he could outwit it, outrun it. A gunshot burst out of the silence and he was on the floor, face pressed into a white carpet that turned into thorns. Then he was dodging past ropes and dark corners, wood squeaking underneath his feet. Managing to skid to a stop on a ledge overlooking oblivion, his gaze was captured by a comet made of gold and suns and diamonds hurtling past with a sound like angels singing. The singing turned to screams and he dropped to his knees, cradling his head in his hands, “Stop it! Stop!” The comet was below him – no, he was underneath it – and it smashed on the ground in a shower of fractured rainbows and fire and mirrors. “No!”

Suddenly the ground dropped away and he plummeted down into the dark, trying to catch the air between his fingers. A rope jerked around his neck and he tore desperately at the hold, shadows boiling up around him. Other vines shot out of the dark to fasten around his wrists and ankles, to hold him helpless and still as another vine began to curl across his mouth, gagging him. The earthy, bitter taste made him retch. He struggled, the rope tightening around his throat and Bodie was beside him. He held a knife in his left hand and thrust it clumsily into Doyle’s side, the weapon disappearing up past the handle as Bodie twisted it and said calmly, “We don’t need you anymore. You’re a coward. You can’t even kill yourself properly.” He pulled the knife out, slowly, like he was relishing it and Doyle was begging him to act like Bodie (who are you? You’re not Bodie, what have you done with Bodie? Where’s Bodie? Bodie!) because he knew Bodie wouldn’t do this to him, Bodie would never hurt him! The knife glittered red in the darkness, but Doyle wasn’t bleeding, why wasn’t he bleeding? “I’ll just have to kill you instead,” Bodie said and plunged the knife back into him. Suddenly Bodie dropped to his knees, a red slice across his throat and Doyle was trying to pull him out of the way of a speeding bus that flew closer – and closer until –

Doyle opened his eyes. For a second he thought he was still dreaming as he couldn’t move his limbs, but he finally managed to untangle his legs from the sheets. Still gasping oxygen, he rolled over and out of bed, landing with a hard thump on the floor. He lay there, still groggy and half aware, his gaze fixed on the ceiling. The door was shoved open and there were voices all around him, the tones melting from softly soothing to harsh and urgent. Doyle lifted his hands to protect his face; old habits die hard, the lights dazzling his eyes. There was no space… invasive hands prodded and poked at him, he heard someone calling for a sedative. “Listen – listen to me –“

They didn’t.

###

 “Mr Doyle, you have a visitor.” Doyle lifted his head marginally. His gaze was tired, but there was a hardness there that would have shocked any of his colleagues. “He’s waiting outside.” A quick smile twitched Doyle’s lips as he turned his face towards the flat faced nurse hovering over his shoulder. It must be Tuesday.

“Again?” he asked tonelessly. His expression had smoothed out on his face, leaving it unreadable. The nurse frowned at him, the crow’s feet highlighting her eyes bunching together into four jagged horizontal lines and she pulled at his shoulder impatiently.

“Yes, Mr Doyle, again.” she said, “Mr Bodie’s here to see you. I don’t mind telling you that he looks like a kicked puppy.”

Good, Doyle thought, but his heart wasn’t really in it. His heart wasn’t really in anything these days. “I don’t want to see him.”

The nurse rolled her eyes and tutted with rather more force than was usual. “Dr Ness said that you need to speak to him sooner or later. Why not sooner?”

“I thought there was supposed to be doctor-patient confidentiality,” Doyle responded evasively. The nurse didn’t bother arguing with him. A beefy hand dragged him upright. Automatically his lips formed a protest, but she was already hauling him towards the door. “Hey!” Fingers curling into fists, Doyle tried to shrug her off, dull stirrings of anger smouldering inside his belly. The woman ignored him and led him out of the communal rest room (although Doyle was yet to understand why that room was specifically the rest room, rest was a big issue around here and seemed to be mandatory in pretty much every room) before practically shoving him into another, sparsely furnished, room.

Doyle spun around, loudly vocalising his objections, when the woman stuck her finger under his nose. “You and Mr Bodie are going to have a little chat.” she informed him bluntly, “You are going to give him the time of day. Neither of you are coming out until Mr Bodie decides that he’s ready to go. Do you understand?”

“But –“

“Do you understand?”

“How old do you think I am?” Doyle snapped, “Twelve?”

“Do. You. Understand?”

“Yes –“

“Good. Then sit down, Mr Bodie will be here shortly.” The nurse nodded curtly at the bunk that occupied the far corner before carefully closing the door behind her. Doyle heard the bolt slide home. Defeated, he sunk onto the crisp sheet and unconsciously drew one knee up to his chin. Then, fixing his gaze on the door, he waited.

“He’s ready for you, Mr Bodie,” the nurse beckoned him over; casting nervous glances over her shoulder as she did so.

“Thanks,” Bodie hurried over, smiling wanly at her, a fresh purple-black bruise glowing on his jaw. “Thank you so much for doing this, Nurse Stinson. This means so much to me.”

Nurse Stinson rolled her eyes heavenward and gave him a quick jostle towards the corridor. “If anyone finds out about this I’ll lose my job. Go on! Once you’re inside it’ll be fine. I’ve signed Mr Doyle as having a meeting with an outside therapist. Hopefully no one will notice that I’ve made it up.”

“Lying’s a sin, nurse, didn’t you know that?” Bodie teased, mentally preparing himself. A month and a half was a long time to try and apologise to your best mate.

Maybe my only mate.

Except he wasn’t sure he should be the one apologising. Really.

Nurse Stinson glared at him. “Go on with you! I’m only doing this because you charmed me. It’s coercion.”

Bodie grinned again – that wasn’t quite how he remembered it. “Thank you again.” he said fervently. “You’re an angel.”

“Hush, you’ll ruin my reputation.” she answered, but without heat. Then turning on her heel; she strode back behind the desk, studiously ignoring his existence. Bodie didn’t waste another minute. He scurried along the strip-lit passage, trying to calm his climbing adrenaline. You’ve faced maniacs with machine guns, he reminded himself severely, this is just Doyle. The worst he can do is give you a black eye – or maybe two. Nothing you haven’t had before. Nothing you can’t handle.

Except you’re trying to find out why he decided to hang himself in his bedroom, the little voice reminded him. You’re also trying to understand why you didn’t notice and then, when you did, you didn’t do anything. You’re still thinking of Doyle as your best mate, but you nearly let him swing, you bastard! Hey? What do you say to that – Mr I’m such a good friend?

“Shut up,” Bodie muttered.

The sound of the door being unlocked made Doyle straighten like an animal on guard. Lifting his gaze, he watched the handle slowly dip and then saw the door be gently pushed open. His mind raced through several devastating openers he could use, each more hurtful and – how he hated to admit it even to himself – petty than the last. But, as the door swung to the full and Bodie sidled meekly into the room, the only thing he managed to force out was the shockingly ordinary, “Hello Bodie.”

“Hello Ray.” Bodie swallowed and offered, “Are they treating you OK in here?” Doyle could only tip his head to the side. “Not too bad?” Carefully, like his presence could break something, Bodie lowered himself into the folding chair that had been set up earlier by Nurse Stinson. Doyle stared at him. Bodie stared back. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each regarding the other with undisguised wariness in their eyes. It was Bodie who backed down first. Doyle could outstare a cat. “How’s the food?” Doyle snorted; trust Bodie to think of his stomach. Strangely encouraged by this, Bodie continued, “Any pretty nurses here? The ones on the desk aren’t bad, but I bet all the really lovely ones are tucked away in the back somewhere just waiting –“

“You utter bastard. What the fuck are you doing here?”

Bodie broke off like he’d just been slapped, his mouth hanging open at the sheer venom in the sentence. Reddening a little, he retorted, “Come to see you haven’t I? See how you were doing? That’s what partners do, isn’t it?”

“What’s the real reason Bodie?” Doyle snarled, “Embarrassing Cowley am I? Disgracing the good name of CI5?”

“Cowley doesn’t know about this. This was my decision.” Bodie replied through gritted teeth.

“Just like you decided to backstab me as well?”

“No, that was Cowley –“

“Yeah, Cowley’s bloody terrier,” Doyle countered, derisively calm in his tone, “he says jump and you jump!”

“It was nothing like that!”

“Really? Who was it who tricked me? Oh yeah, you. You’re the one who fucking handed me over to this – this prison!”

“I didn’t want to, Ray. Jesus, I didn’t want to…”

“But you still did it! I thought I trusted you!”

“So did I,” Doyle opened his mouth but Bodie interrupted him heatedly, “Then I walk in to find you trying to dance on air! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Doyle laughed, “Tell you what? I want to die?”

“Yes!”

His face darkening, Doyle said, “You wouldn’t have understood.” Bodie bristled.

“I might have.” he answered. “I’m your partner Ray. It’s my job to watch your back.”

“But it didn’t happen to you, did it? You don’t feel.”

It was like he’d been struck by lightning. Bodie shot out of his chair as if he expected it to burn him and was across the room in the space of a heartbeat. Seizing both of his partner’s shoulders, he slammed Doyle against the wall far harder than he wanted to. “That’s not true and you know it.” Doyle glared at him defiantly but, to his horror, Bodie spotted a tiny flicker of alarm shivering in his gaze. No. He wouldn’t hurt Ray. Not now. Not when he was so damaged already. “That’s not true Ray.” he repeated softly, relaxing his grip on Doyle, “You just want it to be true.”

Yanking himself out of Bodie’s grasp, Doyle jammed his teeth together before hissing, “You’ve done more than I have, you’ve seen things I don’t want to think about, but I’m. the. one. who. broke!” He flung himself off the bunk towards the wall. Bodie made a grab for him and missed. Doyle slammed his fist into the concrete, the dull thump too loud in the confined space. He swung again, heedless of the pain, but when he attempted to begin the third blow a hand caught his, tugging it back. Bodie’s arms encircled him, trying to prevent the agent from doing any more damage to himself.

“Ray…”

“Let go of me!” Doyle beat his fists ineffectually against Bodie’s chest as he hugged him closer, “let go of me – leggo of me…!” the last word broke out as a sob. Doyle sagged, his emotions finally getting the better of him. Bodie supported him to the floor, still refusing to relinquish his grip.

“I’m not letting you go, Ray.” he whispered, tightening his hold – it was all he could do not to crush him, “Not yet.” Ultimately accepting it, Doyle leaned into him, tears staining his cheeks.

Neither of them knew how long they sat like that on the cold floor. For Ray Doyle it was eternity. For William Bodie it was slightly longer.

Finally, after the sobs had become muffled sniffs, Bodie murmured, “See? I can feel – and right now I feel like I’m hugging a bag of bones.” Despite himself, Doyle chuckled. “Seriously mate, I’ve seen skeletons with more to them than you.” He didn’t get a laugh this time. Doyle wriggled himself out of Bodie’s embrace. Taking a peek at Bodie’s face he asked abruptly, “who gave you that?”

“A villain,” Bodie lied and immediately regretted it as Doyle’s eyes began to fill again in frustration. “Really Ray, I was just standing too close to his windmill approach.”

“I should be watching your back,” he muttered miserably. “I’m not even good at that anyway…”

Resisting the urge to shake some sense into his partner, Bodie growled, “Don’t say that. I’ve survived eight years with you watching my back. Eight years! That’s got to be some kind of record!”

“No, Bodie…” Doyle’s voice was pleading, “You don’t understand… Byron Hall… the Northumbria Murders… I’m not fit to watch anybody’s back, let alone yours!”

“Those weren’t your fault Ray.”

“I could’ve stopped them; I should have stopped them…!”

“You did everything you could, mate,” Bodie slung his arm around Doyle’s shoulders; “You didn’t cause those deaths.”

“I was stupid… too slow…” Doyle protested, shivering. “It’s my fault –“

“Give the universe some fucking credit, Ray. Your actions aren’t the centre of it.”

There was a sudden, stunned silence from the hunched figure. Doyle’s eyes were wide with confused astonishment, Bodie’s words having had the unexpected effect of hijacking, derailing, rolling and then utterly demolishing his train of thought. He froze for a few seconds, blinked twice and then murmured, “But…”

“You continue that sentence and I may have to beat some sense into you.” Bodie warned him. There was a little of the old Doyle in the death glare that he received. With a fluid movement that betrayed his skills, Doyle shrugged Bodie’s arm off him and strode back to the wall, his hand tangled in his curls. Bodie resisted the urge to immediately pull him away. Doyle was an adult, he tried to remind himself, and he was wary of making any moves that would snap the thread of communication that he’d managed to string. Exhaling heavily, Doyle leaned his forehead against the wall and screwed his eyes shut. Nothing moved for a long moment.

“Jesus Bodie, I’m a mess…”

“Not to sound like a really bad teen film,” Bodie started hesitantly, “but do you want to talk about it?”

“Talk about what?” Doyle pushed himself off the wall, smoothing down his hospital shirt. “I don’t know how to explain.”

“Try.”

“Bodie, the doctors keep asking me that – and I, I don’t know what to talk about. I just can’t, Bodie. Don’t – ask me to. I just…” Doyle trailed off, well aware that he was making little sense. His fists clenched by his side with the futility of it all. Bodie levered himself off the floor with a little groan. Attempting to ignore his knees clicking, he drew Doyle carefully to the bed.

“Just tell me everything. Just… tell me about Byron Hall, Northumbria. Tell me everything.”

Doyle blinked up at him and then said slowly, “OK.”

###

Another gust of wind battered the windows of the Capri, drowning out the punchline of Lloyd’s joke. Lloyd rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat, not bothering to try again. Doyle had his feet up on the dashboard, his gaze fixed on the horizon. If it had been Bodie in the car, it would have been obvious how nervous he was – his fingers were jumping around on his be-jeaned leg and the tunes he was whistling were just a little flat. Of course, Lloyd wasn’t Bodie and he wasn’t particularly good at reading body language, but no one could match him on deciphering the tiny modulations in people’s voices. He had a good ear for music and that was why he was now frowning over at Doyle. The tune faltered and petered out. Flashing Lloyd an apologetic smile, Doyle leaned over to snatch up the car radio which was singing. “Yeah, 4.5 here. What’s happening at your end?”

“Not much, another dead end.” Bodie sounded tired, the radio distorting his voice so it was almost unrecognisable. “Has Lorna Parks arrived yet?”

“No, not yet.” Beside him, Lloyd ran a hand through his tufty hair and shifted uncomfortably. Outside, the first fat drops of rain splattered on the windscreen.

“She’s never this late,” Lloyd fretted, his cut-glass accent blurring back to his Carlisle roots. “Lorna’s usually on the dot. I hope everything’s ok…”

Awkwardly, Doyle extended his arm and patted him on the shoulder, withdrawing hastily. “That’s why I’m here,” he said reassuringly. That wasn’t entirely true. It was also because the fifth victim had been an on-duty policeman who was in the process of transferring to CI5. After this Cowley had ordered that none of the agents were to investigate by themselves. Lloyd’s informant, a middle aged drifter named Lorna Parks, had sent him a message that she might have information about the Northumbria Murderer. Since she had admitted that her caravan was parked in the Northumbria Hills Lloyd had asked Doyle to be his backup. Naturally, both men were nervous about the location, but Doyle had agreed.

And now he was sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for a woman who Lloyd swore was trustworthy. Doyle wasn’t entirely convinced, remembering some of his previous informers.

“She still hasn’t turned up?” shades of anxiety coloured Bodie’s reply. “Are you sure it’s not a trap?” Doyle glanced over at Lloyd for confirmation.

Squirming uncomfortably, Lloyd took the radio, “No,” he said, “I’m not sure. But Lorna sounded ok on the phone… and she’s never let me down before…”

There was a rush of static as Bodie sighed heavily. “Just contact us as soon as anything changes.”

“Alright, 5.9 out.” Silence ruled the car for a few minutes. Then Lloyd twisted round in his seat, pulling his sleeve up to check his battered watch. “Another ten minutes?”

“Ok,” Doyle smiled at him. Lloyd didn’t smile back. He leaned back in the seat and began drumming the window, his horsey face pinched with thought. Doyle shifted to a more comfortable position and let the sound of the rain lull his racing mind.

It was eight and a half minutes later when they heard the screaming.

Both men were shocked into action. With the briefest of pauses to grab their respective guns, Lloyd and Doyle practically fell out of the car. The screaming was high pitched, raw and unmistakably female. The rain was starting to dry up, but the tarmac road was slippery and the hill where they found the source of the noise was a treacherous as ice. There was a woman with long hair and a leathery face clawing her way up the bank, clumps of mud and gorse entangled in her clothes. Behind her, almost invisible in the wet grass, was a copious trail of blood. “Jesus Christ!” Doyle was sliding down the bank first, reaching the stricken woman by luck rather than skill, and peeling his coat off. The woman gave a bubbling moan and then drew a juddering gulp of air. She released it in a harpy scream that sent shivers up Doyle’s spine. Quickly, his searching hands encountered the wound in her abdomen and he suddenly felt sick. The wound was a deep, jagged scar that stretched from her stomach to her hip. Doyle’s hand had been in contact with it for barely two seconds and already his palm was slick with her blood. The woman sobbed at his touch, flinching away.

“Please help me – please – please…”

“It’s ok, Lorna.” Lloyd burst out, his words running together. “I’ll get an ambulance, I’ll go get help. Doyle – he’ll look after you.” he shook his head, suddenly all business again. “I’ll phone for an airlift, you – you stay with her, stanch the bleeding.”

“Hurry up,” Doyle said, trying to modulate his tone so Lorna wouldn’t hear the bleakness in it. Even if help came soon it might not be enough; the wound was deep, his jacket was already soaked through and there would be infection if he was any judge. He briefly wondered how far she’d crawled. Lloyd disappeared over the ridge. Doyle listened as his footsteps died away and then turned back to the woman in his arms. Her breathing was getting more and more laboured, her pale face blanching further than he believed was possible. She was still whispering something. Doyle leant down until his ear was near her mouth, making sure he kept the pressure on the wound.

“He did this to me… he twisted the knife…”

“Who did this, Lorna?” Doyle asked. Keep her talking… keep her awake…

“A man… he said… he said he was… saving me…”

“Saving you?” Doyle’s blood ran cold. “Saving you from what?”

Lorna let out a soft sigh, her eyes glazing over, “the world…” a shudder ran through her body. Her lips were still forming words, her lungs not quite able to push the air required to voice them. Doyle thought he caught ‘orange jacket’ and ‘tall’. A description then.

“Lorna, we’re going to get you out of this. Everything’s going to be fine…” Doyle pleaded, too aware of the lifeblood dripping between his fingers. Lorna’s eyes closed. She took one final breath and then… she was gone.

Doyle sat back on his heels feeling hollow and sick. Gently, he lowered Lorna Parks’ body to the wet grass and then began to climb back out to the road as if in a dream. The rain began to thud on the ground, the wind whipping it back up into his face. Dazedly, he walked back towards the car, his mind spinning uselessly. A tall man in an orange jacket had gutted Lorna Parks and then… had she escaped? Or had he left her to die? If he had to guess he’d say that she’d dragged herself a long way. Lorna said that the man wanted to ‘save her from the world’. He was nearing the car now, dreading telling Lloyd the news. There was a disturbing lack of movement from inside the car. Alarm tearing at his stomach, Doyle surfaced from his daze; his feet started moving almost before his brain made the connection. “Lloyd?” he called out. It was lost in the rain. “Lloyd!” The driver’s door was hanging open, the seat was soaked. Doyle hurried around the car, his heart thumping in his ears. Lloyd lay on the ground, his eyes blank, the corner of his mouth sagging, the lips wet with gore.

Across his throat was a wide, bloody grin.

A shadow detached from the surrounding darkness. Simultaneously, Doyle lunged for the radio and grabbed for his gun. He managed to pull it completely free and open the radio before the gun barrel sledgehammered down on his head. Doyle staggered, half trapped by the car door, then his legs went from under him and he hit the concrete hard. The resulting jolt made him bite through his lower lip. Still conscious, Doyle attempted to roll away, his gun just inches from his grasping fingers. The figure stamped on his wrist and he cried out in pain. There was a crackle of bone.

Seconds before the barrel filled his vision, he realised that the attacker was wearing orange.

The sound of rain penetrated the fog in his brain first, the rhythmic drumming incessant and irritating. He must have left the window ajar last night. As he tried to roll over to shut it, pain exploded in his brain – closely followed by his right wrist. Biting back a gasp of agony, Doyle let one eye open a crack. Alarm flared.

He was lying on his side in some kind of shed: the floor underneath him made of damp wood and there was a brassy smell in the air. Someone had removed his down jacket and tossed it in the corner; he could see the sleeve. Doyle warily opened his other eye, panic coursing through him as the painful memory of a gun making contact with his head surfaced. Taking a breath of cold, oddly sweet air, he quickly took stock of his surroundings and situation. The shed was small and, at the moment, empty, a cracked storm lantern was lying, abandoned, near his head, his head hurt like hell and his hands were trapped at the small of his back. There was no feeling in his fingers because the thin wire was digging into his wrists; blood was dribbling wetly down the back of his hands. So… it wasn’t possible to slip out of them, maybe… no, he couldn’t break it either, the fire in his wrist blazing into an inferno. With some difficulty he swallowed back a yell of agony and frustration and instead concentrated on his feet. There was some give in the rope, maybe he could –

The door slammed open. Doyle immediately went limp, his heart hammering in his chest. Always look worse off than you are, withholding information and the element of surprise had saved his life on many occasions before tonight. A breath of air warned him that the newcomer was kneeling beside him, calloused fingers felt ineptly for a pulse and checking that his hands were still tied. A low mutter was drowned out by the rain outside and the hands withdrew, Doyle took care to modulate his breathing, his mind still shaking off the last few shreds of fog from the blows. Light footsteps creaked on the mouldy floorboards and Doyle risked opening one eye. In his limited vison there was a pair of muddy khaki trousers and scuffed walking boots that were missing several laces. Straining his ears Doyle heard the man say, “I’ll do it properly this time… I promise… just give me another chance…” There was pause and one foot churned at a grass stem growing in the floor as if listening to an answer, “No! Please, I know this is important –“ Does he have a phone? Doyle wondered, watching the legs tense, who’s he talking to? “I’m sorry about the other two, I didn’t know she would – and, and I wasn’t prepared for him!” the man was pleading, his voice thin and cracked. The legs disappeared from his vison. “But I’ll do it properly this time… I won’t fail you.” Doyle didn’t shut his eye in time. A hand suddenly rolled him onto his back and he found himself looking up into the tearstained face of an undernourished looking young man, shaking like a leaf. The gun, pointed at Doyle’s head, was wavering so wildly that occasionally he was pointing at a spot behind Doyle’s right ear instead. “You’re awake, you’re not supposed to be awake!” his voice climbed an octave.

Not taking his eyes off the weapon, Doyle said gently, “Why don’t you put the gun down, mate and then we can talk, alright?” The man wiped his nose and shook his head.

“I’ve got to do this,” he whispered, shaking his head, “He says so. It’s important…”

“Who’s he?” Doyle asked.

The man’s lip trembled and with great difficulty he gestured to the other side of the hut, “Him,” he insisted. Doyle let his gaze slide to the spot he had indicated. It was empty. Oh shit. “I don’t wanna hurt you,” the man persisted tearfully, “but it’s for your own good… it’s all for your own good. I have to kill you and then you can go to Heaven… I’m saving you from it…”

“What’s it?” Terror was slowing clawing its way up his stomach now. Please, please let someone have answered his radio call. Please let someone be looking for him right now. The man clapped his hands over his ears, screwing his eyes shut.

“I don’t wanna talk about it. I’m saving you! You won’t have to live through it – I’m gonna spare you!”

“What’s your name?” Surreptitiously, Doyle began testing the ropes at his feet, his eyes pinned on the stricken man bending over him. He was a nutter, an absolute nutter, and had killed seven people already – if he didn’t get out of here soon he was going to be victim number eight. The Northumbria Murderer didn’t notice the question; he was babbling soggily to Him and waving the gun around. The rope around his ankles slipped. A flicker of triumph went through his mind, but the man seemed to have remembered about his victim and slipped away; something jangled in the shed. Doyle froze. It sounded sharp. Then he remembered all the victims bar Lloyd and Lorna had been found with symbols ritually carved into their bodies and gutted. Shit, shit, shit…

The man returned; a long knife clutched in his clammy palm. The blade was dull with dried blood – Lloyd’s blood. The rope had fallen over one heel now, a shiny sheen of sweat mixing with the blood on Doyle’s face. Wetting his lips, Doyle said, “Listen to me mate. What you really need is a hospital. They’ll be able to help you. They can make Him go away –“

“Shut up!”

“You need help. You don’t like Him, do you? You don’t like that He’s making you kill people –“

“Shut up! Shut up!” The knife nicked his chest, tearing a hole in the fabric of Doyle’s shirt. Two drops of blood beaded.

“Just put the knife down and I’ll help you.” Doyle was talking quickly now, trying to catch the man’s attention – more time, more time! His legs were nearly free…

“Shut up!” the man dragged Doyle towards him and hissed in his face, “He’ll hear you…!”

“No, he can’t hear me, it’ll be alright –“ the blow slammed his head against the floor. For a skinny man he was deceptively strong. Stars danced in front of his eyes and by the time they’d cleared the man was kneeling beside him again, something in his fist.

“You’ve got to be quiet!” he begged.

“No –“ his protest was abruptly cut off by the duct tape, the man sat back on his heels, panting.  

“That was close,” he confided to his prisoner, like a young child might, his pale face glistening, “He nearly heard you.” Doyle gave a muffled grunt of frustration through his gag, but there was an element of relief that he prayed had gone unnoticed. His feet were free. The man turned away again to pick up the knife and Doyle began to inch towards the door: every inch, every centimetre, he could make up now could be the defining one that made the difference between living and dying. The man hadn’t seemed to have noticed – he was having another heated conversation with Him, twitching and crying. Abruptly he turned round. His gaze focused on Doyle. The hand holding the knife suddenly became very, very steady. “Where did you think you’re going?”

Doyle kicked out as the man bore down on him. He was aiming for the stomach, but luckily for him he missed. The man dropped like a stone. Doyle wasted no time, he managed to roll onto his side and gracelessly pull himself to his feet. The Northumbria Murderer was still squirming in agony on the ground, keening whimpering dribbling from his lips. Using his shoulder to barge through the door, Doyle stumbled out into the roaring rainstorm, his balance hampered by his inability to use his hands. Rubbing ineffectually at the tape over his mouth using his shoulder, he blundered towards the trees. He couldn’t be that far from the road… could he? The Murderer wouldn’t have been able to drag him that far. The road must be near… the rain pelted him, the roaring deafening. Naked terror was beginning to climb into his chest, animal instincts screaming at him. He was blind, deaf and completely lost –

So he was lucky that he detected the hill before he staggered over it. Limping to a stop, Doyle peered over the edge and tried to judge the likelihood of it being a hindrance or help. It was steep, not too rough, but sharp rocks crouched here and there. Checking behind him, Doyle couldn’t see more than a few metres in any direction. He should double back, he decided, maybe he could evade the man. A spark of hope ignited – Lloyd had called for an airlift, hadn’t he? The ambulance would have arrived not too long after his abduction and CI5 would have been notified. Bodie would be looking for him at this very moment, and once Bodie was deeply invested in a case, well, there was no stopping him. Reinvigorated by this thought Doyle stepped back from the ledge. A knife sliced at the air where he’d just been, only thwarted by his sudden turn. The Northumbria Murderer followed the knife, his momentum carrying him over the lip of the hill. Doyle flinched backwards but he was too late, a flailing hand snatched hold of his shirt, yanking him forward and into space.

Locked around each other, the two men crashed down the slope, pain striking indiscriminately at every exposed part. The impact of the ground flung them apart, both landing with moans of distress. Doyle lay on his side; his vison blotchy, the world spinning nauseatingly around him. The Northumbria Murderer was shifting in the corner of his sight and gasping in pain. A brief, nasty hope burned through Doyle’s mind; he could be paralysed. It took every ounce of his strength, but Doyle managed to get to his knees, sucking in lungfuls of air that couldn’t quite filter properly past the tape. Reeling, he had to pause. Hating himself for every second that he wasting, Doyle began to doggedly climb to his feet. The Northumbria Murderer tackled him from behind, fury transfiguring his face into something far more terrifying than his previous pleading. Doyle kicked out and used his own weight to knock the man back a few steps, but without his hands he was only able to do so much. The man wrapped his hands around Doyle’s throat, his fingers crushingly tight. He brought his face close to Doyle, murder shining in his eyes. “I don’t think I want to save –“ Doyle head-butted him, earning two seconds more of escape. He’d underestimated the effects his own action would have on him as the collision added another layer of agony on top of his already pulsating headache. More than a little groggy, he couldn’t put up more than a token struggle, his reserves of strength just suddenly drying up, as the murderer pinned him on his back. He lifted his arm. Grasped in his fist was a large, jagged rock. “You don’t deserve saving,” the Murderer said. Doyle shut his eyes.

At that moment he felt the weight snatched off of him and the rain fell far warmer and thicker than it had before.

Cautiously he opened his eyes and gagged on the smell of blood, not quite disguised by the rain. The Northumbria Murderer lay on his side, arms and legs askew, the rock dug into the soft earth just centimetres from his hand. There was a hole where his temple should be; it was just a pulpy, squashed mess. A giddy chuckle born of both relief and horror threaded through his limbs. Then there were hands reaching for him; tearing off the gag, trying to pick him up and hug him all at the same time. Bodie’s face loomed into his vison, his face ghostly.

“Did he hurt you Ray? Jesus, you’re a mess. Murph! Get over here!”

“I’m coming Bodie! Give me a chance!” he heard through the rain, “We’re not all SAS you know…”

“You try falling down a cliff and looking this good,” Doyle answered, his voice shaking with the effort of not crying in relief. He swallowed, but Bodie didn’t offer him another chance to speak, instead bundling him up; Doyle could feel his empathised flinch when he discovered the wire cutting into his wrists. “C’mon mate, you need a hospital.” he murmured softly in his ear, but his hand abruptly withdrew from his curls as if Bodie had realised what he was doing. “Murph, give me the cutters. The bastard wired him up tight…”

Doyle fainted into Bodie’s arms. For the moment he felt no guilt or penitence.

That would come later.

###

“Jesus Ray.” Bodie sat back in his chair, rubbing his hand to his hair. Doyle just looked at him, his arms dangling limply at his sides. The story had been told with no emotion, it was just the straight hard facts of the matter. Finding Doyle helpless, in agony and seconds from death had been nightmarish enough, but hearing him tell of it with the same detachment that someone might when discussing squashing an insect was terrifying. There was no triumph in surviving, no echoes of the terror that he must have felt. It was like he was dictating lines from a report about someone else. It sent a shiver down Bodie’s spine. Inwardly he cursed himself for believing that Ray could just… forget about it or go back to normal. Maybe it was because Doyle had dealt with this kind of shit before; he’d been kidnapped and nearly murdered in previous cases – although to be fair nearly being killed happened to CI5 agents on a daily basis, it went with the job. Being captured and held hostage, or just going missing, was far rarer and Bodie still woke up in the middle of the night hearing the burst of static that had heralded Doyle’s abduction. “I’m probably going to get battered for this,” he asked hesitantly, “but did you talk to anyone about this? I mean, did you…”

Doyle’s smile was humourless, “who? Who would I talk to? You? You’d be the first to admit that you’d rather run a mile than talk.”

Bodie bristled. “I wouldn’t have –“

Doyle closed his eyes, turning his face back to the wall. “I didn’t know that, did I? Anyway, who else would I go to? Cowley? He’d just send me to Ross’ loving embrace.”

“I don’t know why she still has a job,” Bodie agreed, “but seriously Ray. I’m your partner and I’m supposed to watch your back. I’m pretty sure that includes stuff like this.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just…” he let out a long sigh, burying his face in his hands. Bodie moved closer.

“Just what?”

“It’s my fault that Lloyd died.”

“Ray…” Bodie warned, but he was cut off by Doyle’s sudden outburst.

“Don’t patronise me! If I hadn’t been so, so… so slow then he wouldn’t have had the time to attack Lloyd. I should have been there; I should have backed him up! That’s the only reason I was with him!” Bodie couldn’t take his eyes off Doyle’s white knuckled grip on the bed. “He died because of me!”

“Ray!” Bodie grabbed his arm, not caring that it was harder than he had planned. “Listen to me, mate: don’t you fucking dare start blaming yourself. It wasn’t your fault. Do you understand me?” Doyle just looked at him, green eyes carefully dispassionate in the face of Bodie’s desperate fury. The discord between that and his grip on the bed was frightening. “Ray…”

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

“Listen to me!” Bodie’s tone suddenly gentled, “Lorna Parks… she died horribly didn’t she?” Doyle nodded, too emotionally confused to reply. “But you were with her to the end, weren’t you?”

“There was too much blood… she never had a chance. She crawled so far…”

“But you stayed with her. Then she died, in your arms.” Another nod. Bodie took a breath and continued, “That’s traumatic Ray. She was a mess, I know, I saw the body.” He didn’t add that for a few heartbeats he had feared it was Doyle, sprawled out on the grass with his insides on his outside. “I threw up afterwards, I don’t mind telling you. Even Cowley wouldn’t have expected you to be Superman after that.”

Doyle didn’t answer. Carefully, slowly, Bodie positioned himself on the edge of the bed, closing the distance so he was far enough away to not pose a threat and close enough that if Ray chose, he was in helping range. “Ray, think about this before you start beating yourself up all over again: you weren’t exactly in the position to defend yourself, right?” A one shouldered shrug. “And Lloyd had his gun… he was the one who could see the road and the hills, right?”

“It was dark and raining pretty hard…”

“Even so, Lloyd knew there was danger. Lorna Parks was the proof. He should have been watching out -”

“Jason Lloyd just saw one of his friends gutted!” Doyle yelled at him, “He had her blood on his hands! You can’t expect someone to be at their best at a time like that! He must…” Doyle trailed off, realising what he had just said. He sat back in stunned silence, his back pressed against the wall.

“Yeah,” Bodie said quietly, “Nobody would have been thinking straight. Not him, not Lorna and not you.” Doyle didn’t answer; instead he drew both of his legs up to his chest. The green gaze became less haunted and more contemplative. Inwardly Bodie began to dance a jig. If Ray could just grasp the implications of that…

“But I didn’t know Lorna, she was Lloyd’s informer.” Doyle said in the tones of someone grasping at the straws of a battered argument. Inward-Bodie stopped dancing and instead sank to the floor with his head in his hands. How could someone as intelligent as Ray be so utterly dense?

“Now you’re just being obtuse.” Bodie muttered through gritted teeth, his frustration boiling up again. Good God! He could strangle the little bugger sometimes. “You bleed for everyone, Ray. You blame yourself for everything and everyone who gets hurt. You even bleed for the villains!” he stopped himself and amended, “some of them anyway. But that’s not the point. The point is that you care too much. You take the world on your shoulders when you don’t need to.”

Doyle raised his head and stared at Bodie, his gaze sharp. “Are you saying I shouldn’t care?”

“No!”

“Then what the hell are you on about?”

Bodie hesitated. There was a long impassioned speech sitting on his tongue all coiled up and gold like a snake, but it was too eloquent – too poetic. It tangled up in his brain and he couldn’t get it past the consideration stage. Most of it he couldn’t put into words anyway, it only existed in some shiny, glimmering sphere of emotions and ideas that couldn’t be separated into tangible conversation.

No Ray, I don’t want you to stop caring… you wouldn’t be YOU if you didn’t care. That’s one of the things I – I admire about you. You can care and you do and it makes CI5 better, you make me better because you care about the world and believe in justice and hope and humanity even when it hurts so much. You believe there’s good in everybody and you can find it and make them better, you found it in me when I thought I was just a killer. You gave me a conscience Ray, when I was broken inside. You fixed me and you look out for me like no one else ever has. I need you to care. I need you. I just want you to not care so much, Ray that you hurt yourself. I don’t want your care to hurt you like it does because I can see your pain and it hurts me that I can’t fight it for you or protect you from it.

It was miles better than what he actually said. “I mean, Ray, you need to care, but you gotta get it through your thick head that you are not responsible for everything. Listen to me.” Doyle’s gaze didn’t waver. “I hated Lloyd. I hated him the moment we found him.”

“You… you hated him?” Doyle asked, horrified, confused. Bodie dropped his gaze to his hands.

“Lloyd wasn’t just your responsibility. You were his. He was supposed to be watching your back Ray. He let you get taken… I hated him. I hated me too; I wasn’t there when I should’ve been. I went through hell. I honestly thought you were dead. In my mind, Lloyd was responsible.” 

“That’s stupid, it wasn’t his fault Bodie.” Doyle snapped.

“It wasn’t yours either, Ray.” His partner met his eyes, stare for stare. “It wasn’t your fault.” he insisted steadily.

“Maybe,” Doyle admitted slowly, biting his lip, “but Byron Hall… that was my fault.” Bodie reached out to touch his shoulder, Doyle flinched but didn’t withdraw.

“Talk to me, Ray.”

###

The orchestra exploded out the last bars of the waltz with an admirable flourish even with the solid hour of playing. Doyle leant against the wall, gaze sweeping the guests suspiciously. His dress suit was unbuttoned at the throat as the heat of the ballroom was getting to him and the mask that he was supposed to be wearing was pushed up like a pair of sunglasses on top of his head. Bodie was standing soldier straight beside him, tiger gaze focused and deadly. “Anything?” Doyle asked.

Bodie shook his head, “Not yet. That doesn’t make me any less nervous though.” He had forgone the mask entirely, tying it around his wrist. Already they had received some judging glances from the party-goers for their ‘lack of spirit’.

“I can’t believe that even with an assassination threat, Lord Ingleby decided to go along with this stupid masked ball idea! I mean, the assassin could be in here this moment and we wouldn’t know it was him!”

“Masquerade,” Bodie corrected him smugly.

“What?”

“It’s called a masquerade, Doyle.”

“It’s bloody stupid, that’s what it is.” Glancing up again, Doyle winced at the sight of a massive, golden chandelier that dwarfed Byron Hall’s ballroom.

Catching sight of his partner’s discomfort, Bodie said, “It’s not going to fall on us, Ray.”

“Not without help anyway,” he muttered darkly. Bodie gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.

“Luckily for us, the Cow’s smarter than these idiots,” he grinned. “That’s why Murph’s up there probably cursing us right now.”

“It just seems like a really bad idea,” his partner sighed. “Don’t mind me if I keep away from the middle of the room.” Bodie grinned again.

Doyle shook his head and returned his attention to a woman clad in a stunning blue gown currently dancing with an eagle-masked man. He whistled under his breath. “She’s married,” Bodie informed him solemnly.

“Damn.”

“Not a very happy marriage apparently,” Bodie grinned at his partner, wiggling his eyebrows. “So do feel free…”

“You prat. No thanks. Who’s on Verbeke duty then?” Doyle asked, instead watching an elderly gentleman totter over to the banquet table and pull off his ornate golden mask. Doyle’s treacherous stomach growled pitifully, reminding him that he hadn’t had a bite to eat since lunch. 

“Anson,” Bodie answered easily. “How long do you reckon it’ll be before he gets jitters ‘cause he can’t have a cigar?”

“Long after this damned party, I hope.” Doyle said.

Elias Verbeke was a high ranking Belgian politician visiting Britain in order to formalise a deal between the British and Belgium governments on the matters of trade and to ‘sample some of London’s immense culture’ as he put it. Why part of his culture trip included a pompous lord’s masked ball – sorry, masquerade – that more closely resembled something from France pre-Revolution, Doyle wasn’t quite sure. He couldn’t really bring himself to deride the old gentleman though; Verbeke had been nothing but cordial, if a little overly formal, to the agents of CI5. He had flattered Cowley and hadn’t had his compliments icily served back. Cowley had been quite warm actually. Because of that, Doyle felt a grudging admiration for the man. Maybe Verbeke was more intelligent than he let on. Well, he had to be if he was in Cowley’s good books.

Bodie suddenly nudged him in the ribs, interrupting his thoughts. “That man, the one in red, talking to the butterfly. See him?”

“Yeah. What about ‘im?” Doyle asked, quietly.

“He’s carrying something… no, not a weapon.” Bodie clarified as Doyle opened his mouth. “Looks like… glass? He just slipped it into his pocket.”

Doyle wet his bottom lip and dragged a finger in his collar to loosen it. It really was hot and the perfume hung in the air like a heavy cloud. “It could be harmless…” he began, but his stance had become predatory, coiled.

“Or it could not,” Bodie finished for him.

“We call it in…”

“Or we don’t.”

Doyle nodded and raised the R/T as discreetly as possible. “4.5 here,” he muttered. “Keep an eye on the bloke in the red mask and suit, will you? He’s just moved off towards the swan statue.”

“Right, any particular reason 4.5?”

“Bodie’s got a hunch and I think it might be right. Might be our man. If not, he’s probably going to cause trouble.” Red Mask had left off flirting with a green cat and was now heading to the banquet table with a swaggered air.

“Will do, 7.3 out.”

Doyle stowed the R/T back in his pocket and gestured with his head towards their target. “Shall we take him?”

“Dunno,” Bodie kept his gaze fixed on Red Mask. “I think we should get a closer look.”

With a quick update to 7.3, the pair moved off into the ballroom. As they were pushing their way through the guests as politely as possible, Bodie suddenly stiffened. “Ray,” he hissed. “Did you see that?”

“No,” Doyle sidestepped a rather drunk Lord Ingleby who took the time out of his busy schedule to sniff disapprovingly at his undone collar. “What?”

Bodie didn’t answer, instead his pace increased and his passage through the attendees became more forceful. Doyle was finding it difficult to follow him as it seemed to have suddenly become the mission of every guest to get in his way. “’scuse me, sorry, let me through please.” A large, older woman was accidently jostled aside as he rushed past, straining to see where his partner had gone. Turning with an offended look on her face, she opened her mouth to, as Doyle uncharitably thought, to bleat at him. Doyle took a brief second to throw her a wink and a roguish grin and she shut her mouth again with a, perhaps not mollified, but the explosion of affront was silenced long enough for his escape to be made.

Unfortunately this meant that he had lost sight of Bodie. Swearing under his breath, Doyle dragged his R/T and opened it. “4.5, what’s happening with Red Mask?”

“Don’t know, I can’t see from here…” the response was garbled static and Doyle had to strain to hear over the orchestra. A piercing scream exploded from the direction that Bodie had disappeared. Doyle’s head snapped round along with at least sixteen other people and he was sprinting towards the source before any of them had processed the implications of the scream.

“Bodie!” The crowd surged against him as guests fled whatever was happening at Bodie’s end. Fear fluttered in Doyle’s stomach as he fought his way past masked members of society, screams echoing in his ears, bruises forming under his suit as terrified people slammed into him in their haste to escape. What the hell was happening? “Bodie!” he roared again, his voice swallowed up by the shrieks and calls of the crowd. Grabbing for his gun, Doyle was almost knocked down by a rotund gentleman, who shoved him aside to usher his two children away from whatever was happening at Bodie’s end. As he swayed sideways, only supported by other members of the crowd, Doyle realised just how dangerous a position he was in – if he fell now, there wasn’t any chance of him getting up again. He would be trampled. The crowd streamed past, buffeting, beating him back. The air was thick with screams and heat, but dimly Doyle grasped that only half of the room was running, the other half seemed to be converging back towards the source. Shit. It was chaos – some of the shouts he could hear were of pain, not fear. Squaring his shoulders against the onslaught, he struggled towards his partner, images flashing through his mind. It was getting hard to breathe properly, the crush of people flattening each other –

Suddenly he was free of the crowd. Almost falling due to the abrupt abundance of space, Doyle staggered in the widening circle of emptiness. Then he looked up. Red Mask and Bodie were locked together on the floor, a glint of light slashing through the air above his partner’s head. It looked like a knife, but the light was wrong. It looked translucent. Still, that thought barely registered in Doyle’s mind. Instead he rushed forwards, trying to judge whether he could shoot Red Mask. But Bodie and Red Mask were so close that a bullet was likely to not just hit one of them, but at this range pass through to kill the other man. Shit. So Doyle reversed his gun and waded into the fray. Seizing Red Mask’s arm, Doyle hauled him off Bodie. The man was quicker than Doyle gave him credit for, twisting from his grasp and striking out with his shining knife. Doyle dodged under his arm and sunk a few hard punches into his stomach, distracting him long enough for Bodie to grab him from behind. Swearing futilely, Red Mask slashed at Bodie but Doyle knocked his arm aside, sending the knife flying into the banquet table. The blade shattered against the wooden surface. Wrestling him down into a headlock, Bodie growled in the man’s ear, “Better not move an inch, mate. Wouldn’t want you getting hurt, do we?”

“You bastards! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you both!”

“With what?” Doyle asked coolly, pressing the gun to Red Mask’s head, “your bare hands?” Gulping down a lungful of air he nodded at Bodie, noticing the blood trickling down his arm, “you ok?” His unaffected manner concealed from any onlookers his immense desire to rip Red Mask’s head off.

“He just nicked me.” Bodie tightened his grip on their prisoner, “Ruined my suit, didn’t you son? Shame, I really, really liked this suit.” The blatant, almost gleeful promise of violence visibly intimidated Red Mask, who ceased his ineffective attempts to hit Bodie in the groin and became quiet. There was some shoving from the watching crowd before Lukas and Susan emerged wielding their weapons.

Lukas rushed over immediately to Red Mask and fumbled in his pocket for his handcuffs. “What happened? Davie radioed me to say that he lost contact with Doyle and then next thing I know everyone’s running for the doors!”

“Don’t ask me,” Doyle muttered, wincing at the memory. “I nearly got taken out by the stampede. Anyone hurt?”

“Not that I know of. At least, no one was hurt seriously,” Susan replied. “It wasn’t too bad; Lukas, Ruth and I were on crowd control so we managed to rope some of the other guests into preventing everyone from running over to take a look.”

“Wasn’t that bad?” Doyle exclaimed, “I was nearly trampled!”

“To – be fair – Ray,” Bodie said as he and Lukas wrestled Red Mask into the handcuffs, “It probably felt worse when you were in it.”

“You can say that again,” Doyle helped the pair drag the suddenly unresisting man to his feet. The crowd was being directed away from them by other agents and the normal chatter seemed to be resuming. “Anyway, you didn’t answer me. What the hell happened?”

Bodie had the good grace to look embarrassed. “I saw Red here spiking the cocktails. Several people were going to drink them.” he indicated the spilled tumblers, the liquid soaking into the once-pristine tablecloth. Doyle strode over and sniffed one of them. A sour smell made him wrinkle his nose in disgust.

“Why did everyone run then?” he asked, replacing it carefully.

“I confronted him, didn’t I? Didn’t realise that you weren’t there. Anyway, Red panicked and drew the knife.”

As Susan and Lukas led Red Mask away, Doyle’s R/T suddenly sang out. Scooping it up, he said, “4.5 here. What’s happening at your end?”

“Cowley and Anson got his lordship and Verbeke out of the way,” Davie informed him, “Are you OK? You just disappeared in the crowd! Thought you’d been knocked over and was wondering if I’d have to send in a rescue team to get you out,” the wry note in his tone made Doyle grin ruefully.

“I’ll live Davie. Bodie’s bleeding, but it’s not serious.”

“’Tis but a scratch,” Bodie called from under the banquet table.

“We may have to check his head,” Doyle joked, “He’s quoting Monty Python – Bodie? What are you doing?” The reply was muffled by the fact that Bodie was currently under the table and scrabbling around. “Seriously Bodie, what are you doing?”

The R/T crackled again, “What happened?”

“Do you mean right now or before the stampede?” There was a pause. “Now: Bodie’s under the table and before the stampede: Red Mask drew a knife and decided to take Bodie out.” Again, his voice betrayed none of his considerable fury towards the man who had just been dragged out between two CI5 agents. Nobody hurts Bodie, you bastard…

“Red Mask… under a table…?” Davie’s voice took on the distinct tone which stated, I have no clue what’s going on so I’m just going to ignore it. “How’d he get a knife in here? Everyone went through a metal detector at the door!”

“It wasn’t made of metal!” Bodie announce triumphantly, scrambling out from under the table. Glittery shards of Red Mask’s knife were clutched gingerly in his hand. “It’s made of glass. Our friend here snuck it in under his coat. I think he had a hidden pocket.” Doyle quickly relayed this information to Davie.

“Shit,” Davie breathed, “that’s clever. Do you think that’s our assassination attempt for tonight?”

“I hope so,” Doyle replied darkly. He pocketed the R/T and then he and Bodie began to make their way back to the assigned positions. “Are you sure you’re OK?” Doyle asked, digging in his pocket to see if he had a handkerchief. “You’re still bleeding.”

“Yeah, he just nicked me,” Bodie shrugged off his administrations indifferently. “Stings like Hell, but I’m not going to drop dead.”

“I hope not,” Doyle muttered. Bodie caught the implications in his tone.

“Look Ray, I really didn’t realise that you were so far behind…”

“I’m your partner, damnit! I’m supposed to watch your back! You could have been killed!” Doyle’s fist clenched, he was struggling to not try to knock some sense into his partner. He looked away, biting his lip. “I don’t like this.”

“Sorry?” there was an affronted edge to Bodie’s voice. “What don’t you like? I’m sorry, but I didn’t realise Ray!”

“No! Not that!” Doyle’s face was screwed up in thought, his hand dragging at his curls. “This situation.”

“You mean the assassination attempt?” Doyle nodded, his teeth almost cutting his lip. Comprehension began to dawn on Bodie, the apparent telepathic link between him and his partner working its magic. “What, you think it was too easy?” Doyle nodded.

“It wasn’t just easy,” he finally said, “it was clumsy. Poisoning the drinks? He couldn’t be sure that Verbeke was going to drink them. He was more likely to kill some of the guests rather than his target.”

“Maybe he realised that so he drew the knife to start a stampede.” Bodie added, “That’s actually pretty ingenious, if it was successful. Verbeke could have been killed by people fleeing.”

“That’s the problem!” Doyle burst out, “Both of those methods aren’t necessarily lethal. The poison could have killed Verbeke, the stampede could have worked, but once you’ve started it you have no control. There’s no – no precision.”

Bodie suddenly grabbed his arm, pulling him back, “the stampede, don’t you see? It’s the perfect distraction! Anyone could’ve snuck in here during it!” Doyle was talking into the R/T almost before he had finished speaking, relaying Bodie’s theory to Davie. Bodie tapped him on the shoulder and gestured into the ballroom. “I’m going to go find Cowley and Anson. You stay here and keep an eye out for trouble.”

“Right.” No sooner had Bodie left did a second, more worrying thought explode in Doyle’s mind. Thumbing the R/T again roughly, he barked into it, “Davie, have you heard from Murph?”

“No – I was just going to radio him –“

“I’m going up there; send someone to take my place.” Doyle didn’t listen to the answer, instead hurrying across the dance floor through the milling mass of people, dropping his mask in his haste. Switching the frequency of the radio he hissed, “Murph! Answer me, Murph. Is everything OK? Talk to me Murphy! What’s going on up there?”

There was no answer. Swearing inventively, Doyle cast his gaze wildly around for the stairs.

The attic of the ballroom was dusty and dark. Doyle’s hand went automatically to his gun, peering into the cramped, twisted passage. “Murphy?” he whispered, scanning the shadows for a familiar lanky figure. Twisted echoes of the party downstairs floated up towards him, mixing with the white stars of dust kicked up by his passage. Taking care not to breathe in too deeply, Doyle began ease his way along the beams, each explosion of laughter filling his body with a sudden spike of adrenaline. Something had happened to Murphy, he was sure of it. Tension wound up his muscles to almost breaking point. The passage was getting narrower and the dust thicker; there was a thin film across the wooden floor. Doyle could see his footprints. Suddenly something caught his eye, visible even in the dimness of the rafters. The dust was disturbed which was not suspicious in itself; Murphy would have left his trail when he set up watch in here, but it was the large lack of dust directly down the middle of the passage that set off alarm bells in Doyle’s head. The scuffed path was the exact width of a body being dragged. Doyle reeled backwards, casting quick glances into the shifting shadows around him. Backup – he needed backup. Whoever was up here was obviously not friendly. He lifted the R/T to his lips, “4.5, I need backup. I’m in the roof. Someone’s here and they’ve got Murph.”

“Stay where you are,” Davie ordered, “I’ll contact Bodie.”

“I need to keep moving –“ Doyle suddenly interrupted himself, alarm colouring his words, “There’s movement!”

One of the shadows detached from the others, sprinting towards him a darker clutch of shades angled towards the agent. He hit the floor just in time, chips of wood raining down on his head. The gunshot resonated through the passageway, but Doyle didn’t take the time to listen. He rolled away from his exposed position on the floor; his attacker swore as Doyle sprang into his legs and knocked him to the ground. Immediately, the man realised that shooting his target at point blank range wasn’t going to be an easy task and instead decided to try and bash his brains out. Doyle caught the butt of the gun on his shoulder and pinned the man to the ground, one arm pushed crushingly against his throat. Using his knee, Doyle trapped the gun arm against the wood and heard the satisfying gulp of pain as he did so. Squeezing hard enough to cause a lot of discomfort, but not enough to induce unconsciousness, Doyle used his free hand to aim the gun at the man’s forehead. “Hello mate,” from what little he could see behind the black mask, the man’s eyes were darting frantically from side to side, “how many?” the man didn’t answer, “I know it’s not just you up here, sunshine. Just gesture, a little gesture… that’s right. Don’t want you getting any ideas, eh?” Carefully, Doyle lessened his grip on the man’s throat. “Don’t try anything,” he hissed, pushing the gun harder against his forehead, “Keep quiet. Drop the gun, drop it!” the gun clattered on the ground and Doyle winced at the noise. “Come on,” he muttered, dragging the man upright. There was a change in the air and without thinking Doyle pushed away his prisoner and ducked. A gun passed over his head and slammed into the first man. He dropped to the floor. Doyle grinned, “Oops.” The second man lunged at him, but Doyle evaded him easily and karate chopped him down. The man choked and struggled to climb to his feet, but the cold metal of a gun barrel against his neck made him hastily rethink his actions. “Hands up, both of you!”

With his free hand, Doyle began to reach for his R/T when a calm, quiet voice interrupted him, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” Doyle glanced up and his heart froze in his chest. Framed perfectly in the doorway were three figures, two masked and one hanging limply between them. Both of the masked figures were armed. “Please step away from my men, unless you would like to see a magic trick.”

“Oh yeah?” Doyle bluffed, not taking his eyes off the comatose Murphy, “What’s that? Are you gonna make me disappear?”

There was a pause and then the figure replied, “Essentially yes. And your colleague too. It’s quite easy, I assure you.” There was something about the voice that Doyle couldn’t put his finger on, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind. He had far more important things to worry about.

“I’ve got back-up coming,” Doyle said, his façade of confidence gleaming in the darkness, his voice low and threatening, “They’ll be up in a minute. Why don’t you let him go before things get messy?”

The speaker pretended to consider it and then said, “You won’t have backup coming.” The figure holding Murphy jammed its pistol against his head. Murphy groaned in pain and rush of fury momentarily overwhelmed Doyle. “You, Mr CI5, are going to call your back-up and tell them that it was a rat you saw. You will then tell them that that you have found your colleague and he’s perfectly fine.”

“And if I don’t?” Doyle asked, already knowing the answer.

“You seem like a smart man,” the speaker replied coolly, “Guess.” Doyle’s acidic retort was stopped dead by the sudden pressure of a gun barrel against the back of his neck. He hesitated for another moment, trying to draw out the moment. “You are stalling, Mr CI5, no doubt hoping that the backup will arrive before you comply. And oh, please put the weapon down.”

If looks could kill everyone in the attic bar Murphy would’ve been splashed across the faded wood. With an expression that promised future carnage, Doyle slowly placed his gun at his feet and lifted the R/T. “4.5 here,” he said, “I found Murph, it was just a rat. I… overreacted.” He thumbed off before anyone could reply. Please let Davie be alert enough to realise that the tense, short check-in was suspicious. One of the men he had caught twisted his arm up his back, trapping it painfully.

“Good, let’s… how you say… roll.”

Doyle thudded onto his hands and knees, trying not to wince as an exposed shard of wood tore open his dress trousers and subsequently his knee. Twisting round, he was just fast enough to catch Murphy’s head before it crashed into the floor as well. Their captors stepped through the gap, silhouetted against the shade of the corridor. The small room they were in glowed with a flickering golden light, casting weird and disjointed shadows across the walls. Uproarious classical music boomed eerily from below them, oddly clear. Squinting a little as his night vison was destroyed, Doyle glared at the four masked terrorists standing over him and his unconscious co-worker. “Now what?” he demanded. The first of the terrorists, who, judging by the stance was the leader, stepped closer to him and almost carelessly directed the gun at his head.

“I must apologise, it appears that we were not prepared for guests.” The voice still sounded wrong in the stale, smoke-smelling air. Confused, Doyle let his gaze flit over the figure, trying to get the puzzle piece to slot into place. Suddenly it did. The terrorist let out a chuckle. “Your colleague was a typical English gentleman, Mr CI5. He would not hit a woman, even when he was suspicious. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we all followed his example?” She stalked across the room, gesturing to the other three men to bring their prisoners after her. Taking a moment to adjust the silver skull mask, the lead terrorist turned around, “On your knees, please. Put your hands behind your head.” Doyle hesitated for a second, but the man who had grabbed him prodded the gun at the back of his head. Reluctantly he complied. Skull nodded approvingly and then began directing the other three (Doyle nicknamed them Fawkes, Black and Jester accordingly) in rapid fire Dutch. Taking the opportunity, he surveyed the room, searching for an escape route.

As he had noted before it was small; one wall was missing and, by peering out of the gap, Doyle realised that beyond it was the ballroom. Also beyond that was a very long drop. A huge, tightly wound, interwoven wire stretched through the gap and was anchored to a mechanical winch to the left of them. Doyle stared at it for a few moments, trying to get his brain to connect the dots… the winch must be for… must be… oh God –

Skull turned around from what she was doing just in time to catch his expression melting from dispassionate to horrified as he realised just what they were planning. Laughingly she moved towards him, her hand darting out as if she was going to pat him under the chin like a child. Doyle flinched backwards, green eyes filled with loathing, “You really are an intelligent man, Mr CI5.”

“There are kids down there.” Every syllable was icy cold, slotting into place. Skull shrugged. “They’re innocent of anything Verbeke has done.”

“They are collateral. Besides, they will have a warning.” Doyle closed his eyes, trying to quell the rage inside. “Moreover, Mr CI5, what makes you so different?”

Doyle raised his eyebrow, secretly surprised at how little the question riled him, “I don’t drop chandeliers on crowds of innocent people. I leave that to loonies like you.” The flood of angry tension in the woman’s stance was satisfying, the kick in the nuts a hundred times less so. In accordance to the ancient laws of manhood, Doyle keeled over, gasping in agony. Briefly, the room blurred as he rode out the wave and by the time his thought were legible again Skull had moved away and was conferring with her group. Doyle lay there, biting his lip, plans beginning to form in his mind. There was insubstantial, yes, but if he could figure something out in time…

Time was a luxury that he didn’t have.

Suddenly Murphy exhaled heavily. Doyle glanced over to meet a fairly lucid brown gaze. “Murph!” he hissed, before cursing silently and peeking over at their captors. Skull, Jester and Black were too busy to give more than a cursory look in their direction, but Fawkes noticed. His mask slid a little on his face as he frowned.

“What are you doing?” Fawkes demanded in his thick accent, levelling the gun at him. Doyle sat upright.

“He’s hurt,” he replied scathingly, “I need to take a look at him.”

“Put your hands behind your head!”

“What are you going to do? Shoot me?” Fawkes’ shifted like he was considering it and Doyle hastily changed tactic, moving in front of Murphy, “Listen, mate, if I don’t help him he could choke and die… I don’t think your boss would be pleased with that, do you?”

Fawkes’ gave a half shrug – the universal gesture of someone attempting to act nonchalant – and said, “Why should I care about an Englishman?”

“Because you haven’t killed us yet,” Doyle replied a little too quickly. The gun was shining distractingly in the weird light, “Your boss, well, I get that she wouldn’t leave loose end, would she? No, you lot,” maybe just her, he added in the privacy of his own head, “have this all planned out. You want us alive.”

“It’s a trick,” Fawkes said uncertainly, “You have a plan…”

“My friend is hurt,” Doyle persisted. He could sense Murphy shifting behind him and could almost feel the winding of muscle. What was Murphy planning…? Sweat was sticking his suit to his back; Black was over at the winch now, Jester kneeling at the edge of the room. Jester’s hands were wrapped around a long black shape. “No trick. I’m not tricking you.”

“You, in the corner,” Fawkes growled, “I will check him.” Holding his hands out pacifyingly, Doyle began to climb to his feet, heart hammering in his chest. His gaze flashed to Murphy, but his eyes were closed. Had he passed out? Did he even have a plan? Jester looked to be readying himself to take the shot...

Backed fully into the corner, Doyle stood there with his hands up, readying to spring… Fawkes was stalking over to Murphy; his gun still directed at his other prisoner… he knelt down over Murphy, his hand reaching out to feel for a pulse…

Murphy’s arm was a blur. The silver slash bled scarlet as the screwdriver punctured his throat, punching a hole through his jugular. Doyle was already moving before the man fell to his knees, gurgling horribly. Murphy swiped Fawkes’ gun, firing off a shot one-handed as the other three terrorists spun around in shock. Black collapsed, blood gushing from his kidney. Simultaneously, Murphy dragged Doyle’s gun from the waistband of Fawkes’ dress trousers, tossing it to Doyle. Deftly catching it, Doyle’s bullet smashed through Jester’s ribcage. He staggered forwards still trying to grip the rifle, lifting it in sweat soaked hands. “Go!” Doyle screamed. Both he and Murphy lunged behind cover; Murphy in the doorway leading back to the ballroom, Doyle behind the winch. Like some real life immortal Terminator, Jester straightened up and almost leisurely directed the gun at his killer. The rifle barked. Doyle flattened himself to the ground shielding his head. There was a scream of protest as the bullet sparked across the winch controls. The wire juddered. Both agents held their breath. Nothing happened. Gripping his gun in his fist, Doyle peeked over his shield. Three bodies – should be four – on the ground, bright smears of blood slicking the floor. Where was… out of the corner of his eye he saw something shuddering, rising out of the ground.

He turned.

He fired.

Skull fell to her knees, a shriek of agony ripping its way out of her. Doyle’s bullet had shattered her right shoulder, leaving it hanging limply, useless. Scrambling over to her, Murphy kicked the gun backwards towards the exit. Panting a little, Doyle joined him, his weapon directed at her head. Shakily he said, “Murph… next time… warn me please.”

“I tried. Who… who was the one who decided to squeak? Nearly ruined it!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Doyle wiped his free hand across his face, staining the suit, “sorry.” Murphy shook his head despairingly and stalked over to Skull, dragging her mask roughly off of her. The face underneath was middle-aged, pale with deeply scored lines. Two large grey eyes held the milky madness of hate. Murphy gave her a dark smile.

“What’s your name?” Skull said nothing; instead her lip began to curl. At first Doyle though she was sneering at them and readied himself for the insult. It didn’t come. Bizarrely, she was smiling – no, not smiling, actually grinning! Doyle caught a hint of a pearly tooth just before she suddenly darted to the side. Doyle sprang for her, his hand closing on her injured arm. The noise she made was somewhere between a scream and a shriek of laughter; Doyle hadn’t ever heard anything like it before. Her other arm flailed out, striking a spot on the chandelier winch. Doyle didn’t see what she hit, but he couldn’t miss what happened next.

The chain, the wire, whatever was holding the chandelier aloft exploded away from them. Strands of wire untwisted like whips, one of these lashed past Doyle’s feet. Luckily for him, his subconscious instincts had already sent him falling backwards – the reflexes honed by Macklin coming to his aid – meaning that only the tip of the wire caught his shin and tore a tiger claw mark into his skin. Skull was not so lucky. The mass of metal netted her as it flew past, the strands cutting her to ribbons. Her blood-soaked body bounced like a doll thrown by a child in a temper before she – and the chandelier – disappeared over the edge of the parapet.

The music was silenced by the sound of a thousand shards of glass shattering into a billion refracted diamonds.

Then there were the screams and all Doyle could remember was crying out for Bodie.

###

Doyle stopped. He was trembling too hard to force the words out. Bodie leaned forwards, his hand gripping his partner’s shoulder in tight, bruising sympathy. Doyle swallowed and tried again, the words still locked somewhere in his brain. “If it’s too difficult, just stop,” Bodie murmured soothingly, “it’s OK.”

Doyle shook his head, “I – I don’t remember.”

“What do you mean?” Bodie asked.

“I mean I don’t know what I did next! What did I do?” Doyle turned frightened eyes on Bodie. “How can I not remember? I thought I did remember! I must remember ‘cause I’ve seen it, but I haven’t seen it… I remember searching for you, I think, but I don’t remember much else…”

Bodie reached out for him, “… shock?” he suggested. “According to Cowley, you were…” he trailed off, embarrassed.

“In a state?” Doyle said, almost wryly. The sudden change in emotion was startling. His hand was snarled in his hair again and Bodie wasn’t sure if the whitening of his partner’s fingers was his imagination or not. “I was just… I killed all those people, Bodie. I keep having nightmares and I don’t know if they’re real or not… I just… there’s blood everywhere and bodies… but I don’t know if that’s what happened! I don’t know…”

Bodie pulled Doyle’s hand out of his hair, “if you keep tugging like that you’re gonna end up bald, sunshine.” Smiling to hide the empty anger in roaring inside him and, to his horror, the feelings of claustrophobic irritation, he nudged Doyle’s shoulder. “Budge up, Ray.” Doyle did so, moving maybe further than was necessary. This apparent betrayal of their normal lack of personal space made Bodie feel like he wanted to cry – if he cried of course. It was like Doyle couldn’t trust himself around Bodie. “Listen Ray, I feel like a broken record. It wasn’t your fault. You are not responsible for the whims of the universe –“

“Nine people killed, seventeen injured, four of those permanently. Three of those people were children. One was you. Twenty six people were hurt all because I couldn’t stop one crazy bitch from dropping a chandelier.” Doyle couldn’t meet Bodie’s eyes.

“You saved Murphy’s life as well Verbeke’s,” Bodie said, “C’mon Ray! That’s gotta count for something!”

“You bastard!” Doyle launched himself off the bed and Bodie followed him, grabbing him before he could get anywhere near the wall. “I don’t care about Verbeke!” Doyle snarled, “Murph… I don’t think they were planning on killing him. I mean, why would they keep him alive? They were probably planning on using him as a hostage if things went south. But I’m your partner! I watch your back, that’s what I’m for! That’s what I get paid for!” Taking a few deep breaths to try and calm himself, Doyle directed a finger at Bodie, “I let her do it. I was closer, Murphy was likely concussed. I let a terrorist get the drop on me and you nearly paid for it. Twenty six people paid for my mistake.”

Something in Bodie snapped at that moment. Whether it was the defeated edge to Doyle’s voice or just the tension and emotion confusion drowning them both, but he suddenly lunged at Doyle, seizing him and spinning him round.

“Just shut up. Just shut up Ray. I can’t take this anymore. Why? Why are you so hard on yourself? Why do you beat yourself down over anything you ever do? You’re Ray Doyle. You’re one of the most complex, irritating, idealistic, little skinny sods I’ve ever met. Why can’t you see that? Why can’t you see what you are?” Doyle stared at him, this time not with fear or apprehension, but with confusion and Bodie could still see the inability to understand shimmering in his gaze. “Why can’t you understand? The world is not your problem. The world is not your responsibility. You’re human. You make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes,” his partner opened his mouth but Bodie didn’t let him speak, instead raising his voice, “You’re my partner. I’m supposed to watch your back. How do think I’d feel if I let you die?”

Doyle wrenched out of his grasp, a cold, brittle smile on his lips. “I did think. That’s why I did it. You deserve better than me, Bodie. You deserve a partner who doesn’t put you in danger because of his stupidity. I – I thought a lot. And I wanted out. Out of everything. Stop the world, I want off.” he snorted sardonically. “I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know what to do. I stopped eating. I… one day I took my pen knife and I cut my arm.” Doyle’s gaze locked with his partner’s. “Only once,” he added quickly, pleading a first offence, “I knew… at that moment that something was wrong with me.”

“Jesus Ray.”

Doyle continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Then, just one morning, I woke up and I realised that I wanted to die.”

Bodie said nothing. He couldn’t speak.

“And it’s amazing,” Doyle said, almost laughing, almost smiling, “how… analytical you become. It was like going through a list; a gun’s too messy, a car or train’s selfish and I couldn’t face drugs. The bus? That was an accident, believe me, that’s not how I wanted to go. Somehow, dying on the job just felt like I was betraying you, CI5. I wanted it to be on my own terms. Hanging seemed the best bet. It should have quick and easy.” his face darkened and he looked away. “It should have been easy.”

“I couldn’t let you die.” Bodie said firmly. “I won’t let you throw your life away, Ray.”

Doyle raised his eyebrow, “You won’t? I don’t get a say?”

“No. No, you don’t.” Bodie grabbed his hand, “there are reasons to live, Ray.”

“Like what?” Doyle asked, distantly, extracting himself. “Another day of killing people? Another day of having to listen to the guilt? I don’t think I can, Bodie. I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can.” the last word dissolved in tears. Bodie was there immediately. Doyle tried to push him away, but Bodie held on, wrapping his partner in his arms. “How do you do it Bodie?” Doyle finally asked, sniffing a little.

“Ray,” he replied, his voice a little muffled through his partner’s curls, “when… when I was in Africa there were moments that I… well, at night, I used to lie under the stars. It was so beautiful, that sky, those stars. You should see it, you really should. Your inner artist would just… I don’t think I can explain it. But, you know what the reason was that I looked forward to waking up? You know why I wanted to see tomorrow?”

“No… why?”

“I just wanted to see if the sun would come up. That’s all. I just wanted to see if it rose.”

There was a knock on the door. Doyle broke away hastily, wiping his eyes. Was he imagining it? Or were Bodie’s eyes red too? The lock was drawn back and Nurse Stinson poked her head round the door. She frowned at Bodie and hissed, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you any more time. You’re going to have to go, Mr Bodie.” Bodie shook himself like he was waking up from a dream.

“Thanks, Nurse Stinson.” he started to head towards the door, but abruptly turned back and engulfed Doyle in another hug. Again Doyle held himself stiffly, like a board. Like a corpse. “Just… just think about it, Ray.”

 

That’s what Doyle remembered afterwards. There had been no admonishments, no blame. There hadn’t even been a request to live. As he was led back to his room by Nurse Stinson, he could feel something fluttering in his soul, it took him a few minutes to realise that he was feeling – not just dullness, or the empty sensation you got when you’d cried your eyes out. This feeling was warmer and it confused him. With far more tact than had previously been shown, Nurse Stinson ushered him into his room and closed the door quietly behind her. Doyle stood in contemplative silence, keeping his gaze on his feet and away from the stark white walls.

If any of the doctors had been watching, they would have seen Doyle standing with his head down like he was meditating in the centre of his room for nearly ten minutes. They would have seen him raise his head and look around him with a mild expression on his face, his posture open. The doctors would have seen Doyle walk across the room and begin ferreting under his bed. No doubt at this moment they would have started making worried notes on their clipboards, but Doyle wasn’t finished. From under the stark white bed, rammed against the stark white wall, he drew out a dusty and battered shape, still wrapped in light blue tissue paper. Holding it almost reverently in his hands, Doyle went back to his bed and sat down, crossed-legged, on the crisp sheets. He slowly peeled away the tissue, smoothing it flat beside him before turning his attention to what was inside. Lying in his hands was an old, slightly battered book of poetry. Fascinated, Doyle slowly lifted the beautifully decorated cover to find a contents page with the kind of swirly writing that meant that s was rendered as a flowing f instead. Doyle was just about to turn the page when a familiar spiky hand looped around some of the titles and curving onto the opposite leaf dragged his gaze back. Peering more closely, he realised they were notes and a small fond smile twitched his lips. Reading through them, hearing Bodie’s cheery, teasing tones in his ears, Doyle slowly began to realise just how much he’d missed his partner in the last few weeks. He missed being with Bodie and missed joking with him and being privy to the strange telepathic connection that they shared, but that was part of the problem, though wasn’t it? He was a mess – dangerous. Bodie had nearly died because of him and it wasn’t the first time. Doyle closed his eyes and exhaled heavily, trying to quell the flooding of fury and grief that had surged too often. Like a drowning man, he had been concentrating too much on just trying to stay afloat that he’d missed the lifeboat and had been lost at sea. Eventually, trying to swim in the crashing waves had just become too hard and like the drowning victim he’d let go and let himself go under.

But Bodie hadn’t let him go. The tiny thought burned like a single star in the darkness. Doyle’s eyes snapped open and he set the book down on his bed. Bodie – he couldn’t leave Bodie. Bodie, part of the reason that he had wanted to die because he though he deserved better. The pain of being near him had become too much, but Doyle needed that pain because it proved he could feel and be human. Bodie had always made him feel human. The small smile became wider as he remembered all those times he’d been wallowing in misery and like his own guardian angel Bodie had always been there to shake him out of it. He was a mess and Bodie still wanted him. Bodie still thought there was something worth saving somewhere in his sorry hide.

Somewhere in the depths of his mind, a decision was being made. Doyle picked up the book again, smoothed out the pages, and began to read.

###

The stick broke the silver surface with a light plop. Doyle watched it roll down the currents until it was lost to the dark. “Penny for ‘em?” said a voice near his ear. Bodie stepped down beside him, wrapped up so much that he was just a bulky lump of cloth illuminated by the golden firelight.

Doyle rounded his shoulders deeper into his thick jacket, hoping that Bodie wouldn’t notice his shivering. The fire seemed really inviting now. “Not really thinking,” he mumbled, embarrassed. Bodie grinned at him.

“Hey, I didn’t mean for you to take it to heart that much – Cowley still needs his Sherlock Holmes.” he teased.

Doyle smiled lopsidedly, “I don’t know if I’m going back yet.”

“Yeah, well…” Bodie lapsed into silence. Glancing up he said, “I told you it was good.” Doyle followed his gaze, grateful for the change of topic. The stars glowed bright above them and the moonlight cast an ethereal wash over their frosty camping site, offset by the crackling of the fire. Doyle had no idea where Bodie had managed to pull this place from, but he was thankful for it. It soothed him.

“I still think it could have worked if we’d gone in the spring,” Doyle said, nudging his friend’s shoulder. “I’m freezing my balls off here.”

“But this is the best time of year!” Bodie protested, his eyes twinkling. “I mean, look! Not another bloody camper for miles. Got this place all to ourselves.”

Got you all to myself, Doyle thought. Quickly, to hide the sudden flush of emotion, he asked, “Is it as good as Africa?”

“Better; at least here I’m not worried about being eaten by a lion in the middle of the night.” Bodie ruffled Doyle’s hair affectionately, “You should have a hat.”

“Who are you? My mother?” Doyle moved closer to the river and bent to pick up a stone. It was cold and smooth in his hand. An unbidden instinct – some remnant of his childhood perhaps – flared suddenly and his wrist flicked, skimming the stone down the river. It bounced once, despite the waves, and sunk without a trace.

“Nice one.” Bodie sounded distracted. Puzzled, Doyle glanced at him.

“What’s up?” he asked. Bodie swallowed and looked at his feet, looking nervous. “What’s wrong?” Without meeting Doyle’s eyes, Bodie dug into his pocket and pulled out a creased and grubby envelope. Wordlessly he handed it across to his friend.

Doyle paled.

“Did… did you read it?” he whispered, his voice nearly casual. Bodie shook his head.

“You weren’t dead, so I didn’t need to,” he said softly. “I did open it, though.” His other hand uncurled. The silver chain glinted in the moonlight.

“I don’t know why I left that,” Doyle said honestly, remembering the sudden and last minute decision to include it in the letter. Some little voice in his head had whispered ‘what about Bodie’. Maybe it had been his apology, a hope that Bodie would understand what he’d done.

“Do you want it back?” Bodie’s voice almost broke as he smiled, “I don’t think it suits me.”

“Yeah, alright,” he pressed the chain into Doyle’s hand. His fingers curled around it, feeling the Bodie’s heat still glowing along the links. “Thanks.” Bodie threw his arm round Doyle’s shoulders.

“What do you want to do with that? I mean, if you want me to read it then…”

Doyle hesitated, wanting so badly to say yes, but it was too raw and close to the surface. He didn’t want anything to spoil this night for him or the other nights he was going to have because of Bodie’s intervention. He shook his head. “I know what we need to do with it.”

The sparks of the campfire leapt invitingly behind them.

When it was done and vanished into black ash, both of them were silent for a very long time. Finally Doyle murmured, “You know I can’t guarantee, if I come back, that I won’t break again.”

“I know the signs this time,” Bodie reassured him, squeezing his arm. “So you don’t have to go such drastic measures.” Doyle chuckled throatily and Bodie began to laugh too.

“We’re a right pair, aren’t we?” Doyle said fondly.

“A right pair of idiots more like,” Bodie corrected him. “Look!”

The first rays of the sun were creeping over the hills, burning, shining bright. Doyle shielded his eyes, feeling the heat starting to warm his face and the heat of Bodie’s hug protecting him from the cold of the night. He wasn’t drowning in a vale of tears. Ray Doyle had found a lifeboat to shelter in when the seas were high and stormy and a captain who knew how to handle the waves. And maybe… just maybe, there was new land looming out of the darkness, ready to be explored, crowned by the rising sun.